As the hostilities and tensions between China and India continue to increase, another news report has indicated that China is tracking Indians through Chinese phones. The Indian Express carried out an investigation regarding these rumors. The newspaper revealed that a company of Chinese origin, having strong links to Beijing has been mining detailed accounts of personal information. More than 10,000 Indians have been targeted by this company including government officials, prominent politicians, and industrialists.
Chinese phones being used to commit identity theft
The Shenzhen based Zhenhua Data Information Technology prides itself on being a pioneer in making use of data for “hybrid warfare”—non-military warfare comprising of the political, economic, and technological aspects. The company has curated a global database comprising of “foreign targets”. The database information has been obtained from but not limited to web and social media platforms. The information has also been extracted from extensive research papers, articles, patents, and more.
A source reportedly said to The Print, “Open source is not an issue. The issue comes when someone is tracking the IP address or getting information from the use of Chinese phones. This is a fear that has always been there and, hence, necessary directions were issued against use of certain Chinese products, including mobile phones”
The individuals targeted by the company in India reportedly include President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi, Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat, and at least 60 senior serving and retired officers of the military.
The Indian Express has also claimed that the lengthy list includes state chief and cabinet ministers, mayors, sarpanches (village council heads), and legislators, at least 1,350 politicians and lawmakers. The statement said, “Top scientists across apex bodies for nuclear power, atomic energy, and space research were on the radar, too. As were industrialists Ratan Tata and Gautam Adani, startup entrepreneurs Nipun Mehra (founder of fintech app BharatPe), bureaucrats, judges, academicians, journalists, actors, sportspersons, religious figures, and activists. And even hundreds accused of financial crime, corruption, terrorism, and smuggling of narcotics, gold, arms or wildlife.”
The information surfaced amidst simmering border tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and eastern Ladakh between India and China. Skirmishes on the border lead to 20 Indian soldiers being killed in June. Since then, the two countries have been at each other’s necks.
The tensions penetrated every sphere that connected both states. On June 29, on Modi’s orders, the Indian announced a ban on 59 Chinese apps, including the wildly popular video-streaming platform TikTok. On Sept. 2, the Modi government banned another 118 mobile applications, this time including gaming app PUBG, which had 15 million daily active users in India.
China is not ‘only’ tracking Indians
Further investigations have revealed that India was not the only state that fell prey to Zhenhua. The Chinese technology firm, which counts the Chinese government and military among its clients, reportedly harvested the data of over 2.4 million people across India, the US, the UK, Australia, Japan, Canada, Germany and the UAE. This is a massive breach of privacy and constitutes identity theft under laws enacted by most states.
Christopher Balding, a Vietnam-based professor says, “The world is only at the beginning stages of understanding how much China invests in intelligence and influence operations using the type of raw data we have to understand their targets.”