NOTE: This news article has been updated to include the manufacturer's phones that send private data to China. Click here to read this updated article now.
Smartphone technology gets better and better each year. They have high-definition displays, professional quality cameras, and super fast processors, among many other great features.
These phones, and their monthly plans, can be pretty pricey. This may lead some consumers to turn to less expensive, prepaid phones. But are these types of alternatives safe for you to use?
Some Android phones were recently discovered to contain software that keeps track of the user's every use. Security firm Kryptowire says the software transmits all text messages, call logs, contact lists, location data and other information to a server in China. The software is preinstalled on the phones and users are not informed of the surveillance.
Who is at risk?
The software was written by Shanghai Adups Technology Company in China. It says the code runs on over 700 million phones, cars and other smart gadgets and was intended to help Chinese phone makers monitor the behavior of its users.
This is a type of firmware that tells phones how they should operate. Companies are given the code that allows them to remotely update its firmware, which happens behind the scenes unknown to the user.
The normal procedure with firmware is users are given a disclosure, letting them know if any personal information is being used. This wasn't the case with this Adups software.
Adups says the software was not intended for American phones, but it has been found on some of them. U.S. officials are not sure if this software is used for advertising purposes or an intelligence-collecting effort by the Chinese government.
Nearly 120,000 phones made by U.S. phone manufacturer BLU Products were affected. BLU Products says once the code was discovered, it eliminated the feature with a software update.
Even though Adups says there are over 700 million gadgets running this surveillance code, there isn't a list of known gadgets. Those mainly affected by the software are international customers and people using disposable or prepaid phones.
Adups' website lists ZTE and Huawei as two companies to which it provides software. These companies are based in China and are two of the biggest cellphone manufacturers worldwide.
What you should do
The best way to keep safe from this surveillance software is to stay away from the inexpensive, disposable phones. It's better to buy your gadgets from a known source with a good reputation.
Also, do not order a gadget directly from China. Google develops software for Android phones that phone makers are able to customize.
Google told Adups to eliminate the surveillance ability from gadgets that run services like the Google Play store. However, phones in China would not be protected from Google because it doesn't operate over censorship concerns.
Kryptowire discovered the surveillance software and reported it to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS is looking into the issue. Hopefully, there will be a full list available soon of all gadgets that are affected.