Dear OnePlus, please stop spying on my phone [Update]

oneplus, 911

I was happy to switch from Xiaomi’s Mi 6 to the OnePlus 5 over the past month because, as I’ve made abundantly clear in multiple articles, I love me a headphone jack. Unfortunately, it seems that benefit has come at the cost of my personally identifiable data.

Security researcher Chris Moore recently discovered that OnePlus’ OxygenOS-based devices collect data about when and how often you unlock your phone, which apps you launch and use, and what Wi-Fi networks you connect to. Some of that is routine stuff, but the trouble is that the company is transmitting this information along with your phone’s serial number – which means that all these activities can be traced directly back to an individual user.

The company said in a statement that it collects this data over secure streams in order to fine-tune its software for a better experience, and to ‘provide better after-sales support’. That’s wonderful, OnePlus, but isn’t it obvious that your customers wouldn’t want all this data to be anonymized at the very least?

OnePlus also noted that you can stop this process by heading to Settings -> Advanced -> Join user experience program, and toggling the option off. You might also want to remove the OnePlus Device Manager app via adb (no rooting required), but there’s a chance that your device could malfunction after that.

What OnePlus is doing here may not be entirely evil, but there are better ways to go about it, including explicitly asking for users’ permission to collect their data. We all want our phones to run better, but we’d also like to be able to trust the companies that make our devices. How about getting that right first?

Update (October 16): OnePlus CEO Carl Pei apologized for the poorly implemented data collection program and explained in a forum post that the company will now gather less information from its handset owners:

By the end of October, all OnePlus phones running OxygenOS will have a prompt in the setup wizard that asks users if they want to join our user experience program. The setup wizard will clearly indicate that the program collects usage analytics. In addition, we will include a terms of service agreement that further explains our analytics collection. We would also like to share we will no longer be collecting telephone numbers, MAC Addresses and WiFi information.

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