Hello all you wonderful MIUI fans out there! I’m your friendly neighborhood Mod 天 经 地 米!
Ten years ago the landscape of the smartphone industry changed. Over the next decade a lack of competition in most markets allowed the birth and proliferation of a harrowing era of big tech companies spying on consumers. Today it’s become a major problem in the world.
Let’s talk about that.
Tech Talk used to be about what your phone can do. These days it’s more about what your phone isn’t allowed to do. Data Collection and Privacy Violation have become the norm so much so that most of Generation Z believe they just have to accept it.
And one of the biggest violators of data privacy is unfortunately also the parent of Android. Probably the most frightening example I could provide about that is Google’s own internally shared vision of the future titled: The Selfish Ledger.
These goals are well on their way too. One telltale sign of Google’s spying eyes is an unusually high resource depletion in your smartphone. For example users of Google’s news app reported a ridiculous amount of data usage from that one app alone.
Then there’s dramatic battery drain. Users of the Lollipop release of Android noticed that no matter how new or how large their battery was their phones just couldn’t hold a charge for even a few hours. Google covered for themselves with the release of Marshmallow which outright stated that Android would lose 2% battery every hour on standby. This is the “truth” they’ve stuck with till today in spite of also saying they’ve been improving on battery life. In reality there are background processes running in Android and Google’s features that use power to perform their data collecting roles.
One other more silent form of hidden data collection is the use of your smartphone’s microphone. Google’s Voice Assistant had become very popular across the globe and Google knew it was a great resource for data. A Belgian reporter detailed how any device with the feature installed could be used by the tech giant. It didn’t even need to be in active use and could be passively recording audio so long as the device was on.
In those same ten years though something else was happening. On the other side of the world a start up company calling itself Millet Rice began work on the Mi User Interface or MIUI. At the start it was a humble custom UI of Android’s AOSP developed off of the Cyanogenmod ROM. Back then it was a major opposing force in terms of feature density. It was one of if not the earliest Android skins to add a built-in call recording feature for example. Now ten years later it’s started to really focus on a whole new direction and this is where our stories start to converge.
Today’s MIUI is practically it’s own OS and it’s most recent version MIUI 12 is heavily focused not just on expanding its vast feature set but also on how to keep its users safe, their privacy secure.
MIUI 12 is the first smartphone OS to receive the Enhanced Privacy Protection Certification. This it did not attain without bringing in some very big guns.
I’ve talked about this previously but these features make you feel like you’re wrapped in the warm embrace of your security blanket. MIUI 12 acts like an overprotective parent following alongside you every step you take to make sure you’re alright. For example the Mask System depicted above. The icon can be daunting but the feature is nothing but reassuring. Even against your most trusted apps MIUI 12’s Mask System hides you away from them by giving them dummy data when they request it. It will even build a fake virtual identity on your behalf so no app will ever be able to actually track you.
And if that wasn’t enough there’s Flare. Even though it’s giving the apps dummy information it’ll still send up big bright color coded warning icons whenever any app is using things like the microphone. This includes messaging apps that have voice note features! You’re never going to be unaware of your apps again!
This overprotectiveness stems far back into Xiaomi’s history to the Virus Scanner and Security Center from MIUI V4. Back then there had been a period of people complaining about its app killing settings but knowing what we know now about what apps do in the background can we still blame them? These days in the face of so much shady data collection our Mi Phones have gone even further than that and just want to shelter us from all the bad people in this scary world.
Including from the very Android it’s still built upon. I still remember 2015. There had been many complaints to update the base Android version from Kitkat to either Lollipop or skip it straight to the then brand new Marshmallow. And so Xiaomi eventually gave us what we wanted. What followed was about a month’s worth of Android Marshmallow’s lackluster Permissions Manager Clone conflicting with MIUI 6’s Manager. Because of how Google handled it turning off any of the permissions actually broke the app and you wouldn’t be able to use it until you allowed the permissions. On MIUI this translated as incessantly reminding you about the permissions you denied while you struggled to use the app through all the annoying pop ups. It would take many OTAs but finally Xiaomi shut Marshmallow up!
If only that was the only time Android became MIUI's problems. Recently Android’s creepy battery draining background processes struck again.
And while losing data or battery is horrible already what makes it worse is Google’s response to being called out on their practices. The above user asked Google about the strange item draining his phone. This was their first reply:
In case you guys needed a translation of what this actually means Google’s denying any wrongdoing and putting the blame on the smartphone company. In that case it was actually Xiaomi. But in this case:
They blame Samsung. Or they blame it on the battery when the OS in question is Pixel’s stock Android. Too bad for them the Mi Phone owner did his homework. Check out the rest of that conversation with Google.
Did you catch all that? If not let’s do a little run through of all the ways Google tries to deflect the problem and what it does when it all fails.
Meanwhile the problem remains unsolved. Just the other day this is what my battery usage told me about it.
Well over half of my lost power was due to this thing! It took more power than both the screen which is known to cause power drain and WeChat which I use heavily. Look at how they pale in comparison to this Google issue!
But while Google might be shying away from response our own Mi Community has some ideas.
I just brought it up again earlier but I’ve talked about this many times! It seems whenever the Android base underneath our MIUI OS gets updated new coding within it doesn’t get addressed and deactivated by Xiaomi so it ends up negatively impacting our user experience. In other words because of Android version updates to our MIUI system the things plaguing Android users end up affecting us too. But unlike Android users the drastic drop in performance raises plenty more red flags for us. Just like the Permissions Manager of Android Marshmallow this isn’t the first time by a long shot and it’s likely not going to be the last.
Google’s had plenty of these problems throughout its history if we're going to be honest here. It’s kept people’s account passwords for years as just plain text. It’s been proven to use Android to spy on third party apps to come up with future features. *cough* Permissions Manager *cough* It also frequently hides information it doesn’t like, misrepresents news about heated social topics even going so far as to block important facts to sway the public’s opinion and also spies on its own employees to prevent them from revealing the information its hidden. Users of its popular web browser are also subject to various data leaking vulnerabilities, Google’s location tracking and its ability to backtrack browsing history as soon as the user logs in to their account. But even if you don’t use Chrome, if you’re using a browser built upon their Chromium builds you’re also not safe from Google’s prying eyes.
"According to Professor Schmidt, the major part of all Google data collection actually occurs when users are not directly engaged with any products. In fact, passive data collection (when Google is collecting data in the background) is now twice the scale of active data collection (when users are directly engaging with Google products and Google services). Even if you do not have a Google account and do not use Google applications, you will still be tracked, as long as you are using an Android phone."
Digital Content Next and Vanderbilt University discovered through their research.
And of course let’s not forget the infamous StageFright exploit -
- which left Android users vulnerable to data leaks for months until a patch released. And it took even longer for the patch to get out to all users.
And then it turned out the patch didn’t work. It wouldn’t be until about a year after that that a second patch would finally come through and deal with StageFright for good.
… … or so Android users were made to believe.
No your eyes are not deceiving you. These are articles from this year and last year. StageFright is STILL not resolved on Android devices. On the other hand:
Veteran MIUIers might remember that when exploits like WannaCry and StageFright were big news our OTA updaters shot us an update only a week later with Xiaomi’s patch. We’ve been free of the exploits ever since.
So what is MIUI to the smartphone world?
Well I can’t speak for all of you but for me it’s real security, privacy protection and reliability in a day and age where these things are hard to come by. And that’s why 10 years into the making I really feel that it should separate itself from the very troubled very insecure platform of Android.
Unlike most skins of AOSP we know how distant MIUI already is to its parent.
Thanks to the benefit of originating in a country where Google has no presence Xiaomi has been able to develop MIUI as far removed from Android as possible while still using it as a base.
So rather than constantly having to fix Android’s flaws, unintentional or otherwise as they may be, it would really benefit MIUI and us Mi fans if Android was just not part of the equation. And it’s not like there’s no precedent for this move. Many users have voiced their favor towards MIUI over Android.
Even right here in the Mi Community where the smallest removal of Google is appreciated.
What do you guys think? Are we safe continuing on with Google knowing all the shady things it has been doing? Or should Xiaomi seriously consider doing the world a favor and building a truly private and secure operating system all of its own?
Special thanks to GeneralReDMi for inspiring me to make this thread with his recent rumor thread in our Chill Zone's Chat section!
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