Some Nokia devices have been clandestinely sending user data to China

Ruben Fields
March 22, 2019

Nokia phones have been secretly transmitting users' personal data to China, according to Finnish tech watchdog. The information being sent included the device's location, his phone's serial number, and SIM card number.

According to HMD Global, which bought the Nokia phone business from Microsoft in 2016, a limited number of Nokia devices have been communicating by mistake to "a third party server". To his surprise, the device was sending unencrypted information to somewhere in China.

The company said that "no personally identifiable information" was shared with any third party. NRKbeta's article is in Norwegian, but through Google Translate the site claims this data was sent every time the phone was switched on and that the phone was sending this data for several months. He implies that it could be a violation of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation, and if found guilty, HMD Global could end up with some really stiff penalties. HMD's claim here is a bit unusual, considering the entire point of "activation data" is to identify someone so they can be billed for cellular access.

While Nokia exited the mobile phone business to focus exclusively on networking, the Finnish firm's brand name lives on thanks to HMD Global which licensed it to produce a new range of Nokia devices running Android.

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The agency's investigation revealed that the server was under the domain "vnet.cn", which is reportedly managed by state-owned telecommunications company China Telecom.

The company's spokesperson did not respond to requests to say how many phones are in "a small batch" or to confirm the software was intended for phone activation in China.

HMD also states, "this has now been fixed and nearly any device affected by this error has now installed the update". HMD said it "takes the security and privacy of its consumers seriously" and that it will cooperate with any investigation.

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