How To Secure Your Data From Xiaomi Servers In China

By: Rajat Gaur
Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi has recently been in the news, not only for its controversial flash sale model, but also for some data privacy concerns. Some users have complained that their Xiaomi smartphone is secretly sending their private data to some server located in Beijing, China. These concerns have also been backed by the computer security firm F-Secure. One thing that I would like to clarify here is that its not just about Xiaomi devices, you should be worried about your data being transferred to China even if you have some other manufacturer's device and have installed MIUI ROM on it. So its about devices running Xiaomi’s MIUI, not just devices manufactured by Xiaomi.
The private data (which may include your photos, contacts, your phone’s IMEI number, etc.) that your Xiaomi device (or any device running MIUI) transfers to the servers located in China is mainly due to two services that you might have running on your device. The first one is Mi Cloud (much like Apple’s iCloud) and the second one is Cloud Messaging (much like Apple’s iMessage). If you are really worried about the privacy of your personal data, it is highly recommended that you turn off both these services. Once you do that, your private data won’t be transferred to a server located in China. Here is a step by step guide (with screenshots) to prevent your data from being sent to some remote server in China.
Update: A recent report by HackerNews claims that a security researcher from Taiwan has been able to obtain millions of Xiaomi account credentials (usernames and passwords) by exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in Xiaomi's website. Therefore, before you proceed with any of the steps mentioned below, it is highly recommended that you change your Mi Cloud account password.

Step 1. Turn Off Cloud Messaging

Earlier, if you used MIUI, you were forced to use Xiaomi’s cloud messaging service. But recently, after many users raised some privacy concerns, Xiaomi made this an opt-in feature. To turn off the cloud messaging service (which routes your messages through Xiaomi servers located in China), just open the default messaging app, tap on the menu button (or options button) and then tap on the settings option. Here the very first option you see is Cloud Messaging. Just turn it off (see the screenshot below).
How To Turn Off Cloud Messaging

Step 2. Turn Off Mi Cloud Services

To turn off Mi Cloud, first open the settings app. If you are in quick settings, just tap on Mi Cloud. If you are in general settings, just scroll down a bit to the accounts section, there you’ll find Mi Cloud. Just tap on it. If you aren’t already signed in, just sign it to your Mi Cloud account. You’ll see a list of a number of data sync services like Contacts, SMS, Cloud Album, etc. Toggle all these services to off (see the screenshot below). Now sign out from your Mi Cloud account. Please note that you should turn off all the Mi Cloud data sync services before you sign out, as this will actually erase your data from Xiaomi’s servers.

How To Turn Off Mi Cloud Services
If you haven’t ever created a Mi Cloud account, you are already safe and you need not do anything mentioned in this step.

Step 3. Find Alternate Services

Now that you have done away with Mi Cloud and Xiaomi’s Cloud Messaging service, you obviously need an alternative to these services. Fortunately for you, there are many alternatives. In fact, better alternatives. For backing up you data (or for storing your data in the cloud for any reason) you may use Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive or Dropbox and as far as cloud messaging is concerned, you can replace it with Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Skype or any other messaging service of your choice. These services are better as unlike Xiaomi’s Mi Cloud or Cloud Messaging, you can use these services on any platform.
Now your device won’t send your data to servers in China. So enjoy your device without worrying about data privacy concerns.
See Also: Xiaomi Products Banned In India, Xiaomi Mi3 Marathon Review, Xiaomi Mi3 Gets Android 4.4.4 Update