How Xiaomi milks its customers with forced ads, apps and bloatwares!

After using my new Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro for couple of months, here's a brief on what I am experiencing on my phone- several forced ads, unsolicited apps that are installed without my authorization (and they can't be removed) and so on. They annoy me, waste my time, consume my data and slow down my phone. This post explains how Xiaomi milks those who purchase its phones even after getting paid for the phone for rest of their lives. Very clever.
Showing ads is not uncommon. Youtube shows ads, Google shows ads, newspapers have ads- they are everywhere. Ads help companies subsidize a service or even offer it for free. However most of these are services. I see ads only if I opt to use these services. A mobile phone is a 'Product'- Once I pay to buy it, I expect to have full ownership and control over it- by retaining control, continuing to make money at my expense, Xiaomi is violating this space, more so because there's no upfront declaration about this during or before the purchase.

Let us see various means how Xiaomi milks its customers.

1. Music App
There's one unsolicited music app that you can't uninstall. I did the next best thing- turned off all possible permissions. But that doesn't stop the stupid Music app from running in background. It continues to download songs in the background, run ads and keeps showing recommendations.

Every-time I check notifications, there's this music app without fail recommending some useless songs.

I don't use my phone to listen to songs, so I find this app totally unnecessary and intrusive. I would have lived with it if it were to just exist somewhere and run only when I launch it- No- it runs on its own all the time with or without your permission and whether you like it or not.

2. Browser App- works without your consent anyway and won't let Chrome be default
This is another stupid app. In a Xiaomi phones you can never make Google Chrome (or any other browser) as your default browser. You will be forced to use Xiaomi browser all the time. When you launch it, it asks you to "Agree and Continue". There's no "Decline and get lost" option- you've to mandatory accept it. I've not clicked on Accept and Continue till date- but guess what- that doesn't prevent the app from running, showing ads and recommendations.
If they've anyway decided to run the app without my consent, why do this drama of taking my permission? Why not let me use it at their own risk? Again, can't uninstall this, can't make Google Chrome my default browser.

Anytime I click on a link it opens in Xiaomi browser app and I am asked to "Agree and Continue" to view the link. I have to manually copy the link and open it in chrome all the time. Very inconvenient but I am doing that as I find Xiaomi apps very cunning and intrusive.

3. Installs apps without consent
Suddenly this app appeared on my phone- 'Mi Pay' it seems- it wasn't there when I purchased- Overnight Xiaomi has decided this new app should be there in my phone and has installed it without my consent and not giving me any option to uninstall it either.

4. Useless recommendations
I am recommended to download dozens of useless apps that pay Xiaomi to promote them. This despite turning off "recommendations" during initial setup.

5. Show ads everywhere
You try to download app, see how cleverly ads are placed. The open button for the installed Uber app is somewhere at the bottom in small letters. There's an Ad for some other app, which is positioned prominently, hoping users will click on 'Install now' thinking it is for the app they wanted to download (Uber in this case)

6. MI Video takes over gallery
There's a MI Video app which takes over your gallery. I can no longer play a video using gallery app. System is forcing me to give permission to Mi Video app to play the video captured using phone camera. No option to make gallery the default app for playing videos. Besides bombarding me with ads, Xiaomi is pushing down their own apps down my throat, not giving me any option to use an app of my choice for basic functions like browser, videos.
At this rate, Xiaomi will soon attempt total control, pushing their own apps for everything.

There's one full screen dedicated to ads in one of the home screens. (first image in this post- was able to turn most of it off using customization- but still phone will show ads.

Most of these useless apps are classified "system apps" and can't be removed, though they contribute nothing to phone's core functioning and only exist to generate revenue for Xiaomi.

There's an option to uninstall updates- but that won't help, because next update system will re-install all the updates.

Immunity against all external apps that try to remove these bloatware
Internet has many posts and videos on how to remove these bloatwares from your Xiaomi phone- but most of them won't work now- mostly because Xiaomi has understood how they work and has tightened their software so as not to let anyone, however expert they may be, to remove any of their revenue generating tricks. This is like a disease virus developing resistance against anti-virus and rendering medicines ineffective after some time.

Summary:
  • Xiaomi has no respect for your privacy, data and your ownership of the phone.
  • Xiaomi won't honor their own setting options like "Don't show recommendations", "denied permissions" etc
  • Xiaomi will take away all the control you have over your phone and will push their own apps down your throat irrespective of your liking or preferences.
  • Xiaomi will install apps as per their choice without your consent and won't let you remove them
  • Xiaomi will run commercial ads and recommendations at your expense- at the expense of your time (annoying notifications), device performance and money (your data is used to do all these)
All of Xiaomi's unsolicited ads and app downloads run at the expense of your device's data and performance. Thankfully mobile data is not very expensive these days and users may not notice the burden of 50-100 MB (my rough guess) Xiaomi might be consuming every week. But when you're on international roaming, or using your phone in countries where data is expensive, this will prove very costly affair to you, as each MB will cost you in dollars.

It is completely Ok to have a business model where part of money comes from ads. But it should be done in an ethical way with proper disclosures. I am not sure if Xiaomi does the same in Europe and US- where privacy laws and GDPR compliance are strict.

One big reason I am not happy is because this was not disclosed during the purchase. If Xiaomi had made clear disclosures during their marketing and in product description that their phones will show lots of ads and forced apps, then it would have been an informed decision on the purchaser's part and one would have mentally prepared for it or complained less. If I had known all these before, I would have stayed with Honor, which wasn't doing all these tricks at my expense.

Even Microsoft is doing this now- If you install Windows Movie maker you see adds all over, you can't install useless Xbox app in windows 10 and so on. But it is not as irritating and intrusive as Xiaomi phones.

Effectively Xiaomi profits on multiple grounds on each device sold:
  1. Initial sale of the phone
  2. Money from ad display
  3. Money from app downloads-forced on users and ones users knowingly or unknowingly download due to clever placements or recommendations
  4. Money from any in app purchases and transactions
  5. Money from in app advertisements (like in browser/music app)
  6. Money by selling user data and insights to advertisers
Assume Xiaomi makes a modest 100 Rs per phone per week. Assuming they have sold about one crore phones, they are making Rs 100* 1 crore * 4 weeks= 400 crores per month with near zero effort. And they can control all these sitting in China, without having to disclose details to Indian authorities or paying tax to Govt of India on revenue generated from Indian consumers.

Further, Xiaomi could also be cheating brands and advertisers. Like in above example, they have forcefully installed the Mi Pay app on my phone. By doing so and installing apps without user's consent, they might be pitching to advertisers and brands as if their Mi Pay app has one crore downloads- in reality, no user has installed it voluntarily.

Above are the things I could notice during past one month. Not sure what else the phone is doing in the background without my knowledge and consent, accumulating my data and using it for commercial exploitation. I now see a clear reason why Indian Army suggested its staff not to use Xiomi phones over privacy concerns. [Details]

Now that I have spent 14k INR on the Note7Pro phone, I can't afford to throw it away. I will probably live with it for couple of years, allowing Xiaomi smile all the way to bank and make a few thousand dollars at my expense over the lifetime of this phone. But then, I will definitely switch to a different phone at the earliest opportunity and that phone won't be from the stable of Xiaomi or its sub brands.

If you're still buying Xiaomi phones because they are aggressively priced or have impressive specs, be ready to survive above torture for rest of your life (as long as you use the phone)

Read more articles on net that throw more light on privacy concerns and data misuse by Xiaomi- Gadget Now * ZD Net * India Today *

July 2019 Update: 
This post by TechPP suggests most consumers do not seem to mind the ads and Xiaomi sales aren't affected at all. Other companies also have got the idea and have started rolling out their own ads. I would prefer to monitor for some more time to see how this ends, but below are potential reasons
- May be Indian consumers are driven by pricing and don't really care much about ads
- May be the awareness is still low- India is a mass market- most consumers buy without knowing about the ads or other drawbacks. Even companies with fraudulent models can get lots of customers through aggressive marketing and discounts. If you've noticed, every ponzi scheme that goes bust manages to get several lakh people to sign up before things turn upside down- we don't do due diligence or hope it won't affect us. Xiaomi's scheme will stand validated if existing customers stick to the brand during their next phone upgrade.
- May be we are heading towards a cartel like situation- Every major brand in mid-segment will have ads in their UI, leaving consumers with not much options, forcing one to select the least worst- like there're many who neither like congress, nor BJP, but they are forced to vote for a lesser evil.

I am not opposed to ad model, but strongly believe there should be a disclosure on it in product marketing materials and packaging, so as to enable consumer to make an informed decision and not realize it after buying the phone. Bloatwares, suppressing other apps and forcing usage of own apps (like not letting gallery play the video and forcing MI video) are still a No No in my opinion.

Similar: Swiggy cheats * Travel Spice business model explained * What happened when I complained to Advertising Standards Council of India * Skoda buy now, pay next year scheme

11 comments:

  1. One of the tech reviewers who regularly points out this and keeps harping about it (rightly so) is GeekyRanjit. Really appreciate his frank and honest insights.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very useful info.I was contemplating to buy Mi note 7.Thanks to you I will avoid now.Yoi should avoid using your banking or payment apps for safety.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, not planning any sensitive transactions on phone

      Delete
  3. Thank God i have came to know about so many issues about this phone coz i was planning to buy the same.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks a lot for details Info's about Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro.When I using Redmi 4, I faced Ad, browser related problems. Now I'm using Xiaomi MiA2 ( Android One OS).

    ReplyDelete

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