When Google is Locked Out of Your Android Phone (and desperately wants in)

Redmi 1S Home Screen

Here, as promised yesterday, is the home screen on my Xiaomi Redmi 1S. Being a budget-minded device it’s running an older version of MIUI—the Jelly Bean-based v5 rather than the KitKat-based v6. But never mind that; what I really want to write about today is app permissions.

Taking control of the often-egregious permissions asked of your device is, I think, the number one reason to become an Android power user. And of the various permissions managers out there the greatest of them all is the one built in to MIUI. Today, through a short series of screen grabs, I’ll show you how it locked Google out of a phone with Google apps on it.

Google Apps on the Redmi 1S

First, imagine my surprise to find full Google apps support in this made-for-the-Chinese-market smartphone. I can only guess that this is due to the unique political situation in Hong Kong—a bit complicated to go into too much detail here, but basically “one country, two systems“. Long story short, Google is not blocked in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, where my Redmi 1S was purchased. Moreover, the Redmi is certified for use with Google Play. Just not in China proper.

Redmi 1S Mi Cloud Account

I was fully expecting to try out Xiaomi’s Mi Market app store, but the only available Xiaomi service on this Redmi is Mi Cloud, which provides users with 10 GB of free backup for PIM data, photos and such. All you need is a supported device and a Mi Account, which I already had for some reason…

Redmi 1S Permissions Manager

The final piece of the puzzle: MIUI’s legendary permissions manager. For rooted users not running MIUI it’s available as a standalone app on the Play Store called LBE Privacy Guard. The catch? It only works with Android 4.0 and lower.

When enabled, LBE alerts the user every time an app requests access to personal data on their device. The user has the option to accept or deny the permission, one time or forever. It’s pretty great.

Google Denied Contact Permissions

So here’s a screen grab from yesterday. I hadn’t even finished setting up my Redmi when Google wanted to help itself to my address book. Access denied!

Of course, as an Android and Play Store user Google already has the keys to my contacts list; had I added my Google account to this device this alert would have been quite pointless. But it’s interesting to see Google displaying the same aggressive behaviour as the Facebook app, my go-to example of Android privacy fail.

Google Denied Tracking Permissions

This one’s a bit more creepy. There’s little a user can do—at least at a technical level—about their location being tracked via cell phone towers. But why does Google need to track me when I’m not using any of their services on this device? Access denied!

Alerts like these continue to pop up on my Redmi every so often. As my understanding of Simplified Chinese is basically nil the Mi Store isn’t really an option for me; I’ll likely be adding my Google account in short order. But I have to say that it was fairly empowering to have kept Google at bay, even if only temporarily.

Oh, and if you wanted a good read about using MIUI within China and without Google, here’s something I posted to the news a while back:

Xiaomi, MIUI and the Android ecosystem within China