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Xiaomi makes cloud messaging 'opt-in' amid privacy concerns

Vice President Hugo Barra apologizes after it's revealed the Chinese smartphone maker's iMessage-like service was collecting some user information.

The Xiaomi Mi 4 Aloysius Low/CNET

Xiaomi, a popular Chinese smartphone maker, apologized to customers and made key changes to its cloud-based messaging service, the company's vice president announced Sunday.

In a lengthy post to Google+, Xiaomi Vice President Hugo Barra responded to a report published last week from security firm F-Secure that claimed Xiaomi's Cloud Messaging platform was collecting user phone numbers and other device identifiers. The messaging platform routs text messages through Xiaomi's servers, rather than through traditional carrier networks, so text messages can be sent for free, similar to how Apple's iMessage works. While Barra made clear that Xiaomi does not save personal information, it decided to make its cloud-messaging platform opt-in for people concerned about privacy.

"As we believe it is our top priority to protect user data and privacy, we have decided to make MIUI Cloud Messaging an opt-in service and no longer automatically activate users," Barra wrote on Google+. He noted that while the service "uses SIM and device identifiers for routing messages between two users," Xiaomi has "never stored" any personal information on its servers.

An over-the-air update for Xiaomi's Cloud Messaging service started rolling out on Sunday. In addition to giving users the opportunity to opt in to the service, Bara said it comes with "an extra layer of security by encrypting phone numbers whenever they are sent to Cloud Messaging servers."

The kerfuffle over collecting contact information is one of the first to hit Xiaomi. The handset maker, which unveiled a high-end, iPhone-like flagship smartphone called the Mi 4 in July, has been performing exceedingly well in both China and other major markets. In China, Xiaomi is now the largest smartphone maker, unseating Samsung to take the crown. Xiaomi has yet to bring its handsets to the US, but it has expanded in several emerging international markets.

Xiaomi's MIUI operating system runs on top of Google's Android mobile operating system. The OS bundles several Xiaomi services, including its Cloud Messaging service. Barra stopped short of saying any major changes will be made to Xiaomi's messaging service, but he did "apologize for any concern caused to our users and Mi fans."

CNET has contacted F-Secure for comment on the update. We will update this story when we have more information.