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Surveillance apps are being secretly installed on phones of visitors to China, report says

Key Points
  • The software can extract emails, texts and address contacts from phones running the Android operating system.
  • Tourist who cross into the country's remote Xinjiang region are being targeted according to the media-led investigation.
The Irkeshtam pass, border crossing between Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang, China. (Photo by: Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Arterra | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

Police in China are secretly installing spy apps on phones of visitors to the country that can extract emails, texts and address contacts, according to a cross-media investigation.

Evidence gathered by the New York Times, The Guardian in England and Suddeutsche Zeiting in Germany has claimed that travelers are being targeted when they enter the country's Irkeshtam border crossing with Kyrgystan.

Border guards are seizing tourist phones and, without asking permission, installing surveillance software on the devices.

The app, said to be designed by a Chinese company, searches for phones based on the Android operating system and checks its content against topics and media that the Chinese government considers inappropriate.

The gathering of information in China's Xinjiang region has been part of an effort by Beijing authorities to restrict and monitor activities of the local Muslim population, according to The Guardian report.

The report says such material ranges from terms associated with Islamist extremism and weapons operation manuals to apparently innocuous information such as fasting during Ramadan and music by a Japanese heavy metal group.

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