In a not so surprising turn of events, it has been reported that Chinese border agents in the Xinjiang region have been installing spyware on tourists’ Android smartphones. These agents have been forcing visitors to hand over their phones so they can secretly install spyware on them and view the phone’s contents. Chinese authorities have not made a public statement addressing this yet.
What Is The Spyware App Being Used?
The name of the app being used to spy on tourists’ Android phones is called BXAQ, also known as Fēng cǎi. This spyware has the capability to collect the following information from a phone:
- Text Messages
- Call History
- Phone Contacts
- Apps Installed On The Phone
- App Usernames
- Calendar Events
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s reported the BXAQ spyware can scan the target phone for more than 73,000 files, such as extremist content. The data found from the cell phone is then uploaded to Chinese servers.
This app is not able to be used on iPhones. Looking at an iPhone’s content requires physically plugging the phone in and uploading its data to servers.
How Did They Get Caught Doing This?
Well, the BXAQ spyware was found on some tourists’ Android phones that were visiting the Xinjiang region. The border agents failed to delete the spyware app on all devices, like they were supposed to.
Why Are Chinese Border Agents Using The BXAQ App?
In recent years, China has been heavily surveilling the Xinjiang region. Currently, about 8 million Uighurs, a Muslim group, and other Turkish Muslims live the area. With this, China has continually been worried about losing control of the region and it becoming an independent homeland. Using the BXAQ spyware app is just one of the many mass surveillance tactics they’ve enacted to keep an eye on Uighur Muslims.
Maya Wang, China senior research at Human Rights Watch, commented to Vice that:
“[This app] provides yet another source of evidence showing how pervasive mass surveillance is being carried out in Xinjiang. We already know that Xinjiang residents—particularly Turkic Muslims—are subjected to round-the-clock and multidimensional surveillance in the region. What you’ve found goes beyond that: it suggests that even foreigners are subjected to such mass, and unlawful surveillance.”
What Other Surveillance Tactics Are The Chinese Using?
Since 2018, China has used facial recognition in the Xinjiang region to keep an eye on ‘targets’. If they move 300 meters or more from their workplace or home, authorities will be alerted. And this doesn’t just apply to the Uighurs and Turkish Muslims. Out-of-country journalists are often being tracked by Chinese authorities using this technology, and are told if they are allowed to be reporting. With this, China is now often referred to as, “A Total Surveillance State.”
If you have or are planning on visiting China or the Xinjiang region, beware of the BXAQ spyware app and other surveillance tactics.
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