Chinese propaganda app on Xi harvests data from users' phones
BEIJING — A new report from German cyber security firm Cure53 in collaboration with the U.S.-based Open Technology Fund has found that Chinese app Study the Great Nation contains code that allows authorities to access users' phone data including messages, photos, internet history and phone contacts.
The app was launched in January and consists of news articles, videos and quizzes about President Xi Jinping's ideology, called "Xi Jinping Thought."
Users earn points for reading and commenting on different articles on the app.
They are also able to compete with each other as there is a scoreboard.
Cure53 said the propaganda app has become the most downloaded free program in China, with more than a 100 million downloads.
The terms and conditions for the app, which was developed by Alibaba and the Chinese Communist Party, allow for it to have access to take photos and videos, collect location data, activate audio recording and even dial phone numbers.
The app can also collect information from 960 different apps present on the users' phone, including apps related to shopping and traveling.
Cure53 observed the Android version of the app and found that it was actively collecting data on numerous running services and then storing the data onto the phone's external storage.
However, the report said it found "no evidence" that this information was being used.
The security firm's report also found that the code also permits "superuser" privileges.
This could allow authorities to download any software, modify files or even log users' keystrokes.
Adam Lynn, research director at the Open Technology Fund, told the Washington Post it is very uncommon for an app to require that much access to a device.
He added that there is no reason for an app to have these privileges, "unless you're doing something you're not supposed to do."
When contacted by the Washington Post, China's State Council Information Office said, "We learned from those who run the Study the Great Nation app that there is no such thing as you have mentioned."
Alibaba declined to comment and referred the Washington Post's questions to China's Propaganda Department.