Xiaomi’s MIUI is a heavily modified Android skin. Now that Xiaomi is the second-largest smartphone manufacturer after Samsung, the userbase of MIUI has significantly expanded.
MIUI is popularly known for its customization and theming options.
Unlike stock Android, it may not offer the best performance, but it is often a usable experience depending on the configuration of your smartphone.
However, it does have a concerning reputation with regards to its privacy practices and data collection techniques.
So, in this article, we will focus on taking control of your MIUI-powered device and discuss how you can improve privacy or security.
Is it Android, or Is it MIUI?
Is MIUI the culprit for privacy concerns, or does Android (as it is) has the same issues?
Well, Android 12 introduced several privacy controls that Android 11 (or older) did not have.
While Android 10 already made it easy to manage permissions, it did not offer fine-grained controls.
Android, as it is, has been laser-focused to improve privacy tweaks available in a smartphone. However, MIUI’s focus was not so much on privacy in its early days.
Now that Xiaomi is targeting western countries more than ever, it is gradually working towards introducing more privacy controls starting with MIUI 12.5.
So, it is safe to say that MIUI is to blame for most privacy concerns.
Ways to Protect Your Privacy in MIUI
Even though MIUI may not be the most privacy-friendly Android skin out there, you can enhance your device’s privacy.
Fret not; you do not need to be a privacy expert to achieve this. Also, you do not need to flash a new ROM.
Of course, if you hate MIUI, you can replace it with a custom ROM supported for your device. But that is totally up to you, and we will not be discussing that here.
Here, let me highlight some of the easiest steps to let you use MIUI while keeping your information private.
#1. Set Up Your Device Carefully
When you get a new device (or factory reset it), you need to carefully check what you agree to and what you enable/disable when setting up the device.
Most of the essential options that include data collection can be disabled from the get-go. Some of the options that you may want to look for are:
- User experience program
- Usage and diagnostic data
- Glance (Lockscreen)
Fret not; if you have already set up your device, you can still disable the options by following the rest of the tips.
#2. Avoid Using Mi Apps
For starters, MIUI uses Google’s default phone and message app, which is a good thing.
However, in addition to that, there are several Mi apps in MIUI like Mi Pay, Mi Remote, GetApps, and more.
And most users often start using Mi applications that come pre-installed with it without thinking about privacy concerns.
To ensure that you have minimal interaction with any of their services, you may avoid using Mi apps (as much as possible).
Moreover, you can find impressive alternatives for most of them, and we will address those in some of the points below.
#3. Switch to a Privacy-Friendly Keyboard App
The keyboard app is what you will interact with the most.
Hence, to keep your information private and the credentials secure, choose an alternative keyboard app that is potentially privacy-focused.
One of my personal recommendations would include AnySoftKeyboard, an open-source and privacy-focused keyboard app for Android.
You can also go through our list of mobile keyboard apps to explore more options.
#4. Do Not Agree to Privacy Policies
You may encounter several instances where you have to access a Mi app to get things done conveniently.
#5. Manage Permissions
Managing app permissions is the best way to ensure that none of the applications have any unauthorized/unnecessary access to your data.
Not just limited to MIUI phones, you should always do this for every Android smartphone.
And with MIUI, you can head to the “Privacy Protection” option from the Settings and get to manage all kinds of permission settings.
Fortunately, MIUI highlights the sensitive permissions separately, which you can get right into. And also, find other special permissions as you scroll down.
There is also a “High-risk permissions” option that lets you control restricted actions like a service sending you a push notification.
MIUI also offers a “Permission Notifications” feature with MIUI 12, which was only recently introduced by Google’s Android 12. Unfortunately, the option seems to be available only for Chinese users.
But, you may want to keep an eye on it. It will notify you in the status bar when an app uses certain permission access.
You will get a colorful icon in the status bar whenever an app tries to access your contacts, location, or record audio.
#6. Revoke Authorisation
A few default apps like Mi Security, Services & Feedback, and GetApps (Mi app store) could prove useful at times.
While some of these apps are tightly integrated with MIUI, they have certain default permissions that you cannot disable.
However, there is an option to revoke authorization for some of the system apps to stop them from collecting any data and delete any related data stored in their servers.
To do that, you just have to head to “Passwords & Security” and then click on the “Authorisation & revocation” option to find the ability to toggle the authorization.
#7. Deactivate Glance (Lockscreen)
Glance is a feature that automatically cycles through new images in your lock screen while notifying you of trending stories or news.
Simply head to the “Always-on display & Lockscreen” menu in the settings and then scroll down to find “Glance for Mi“.
Turn off the feature to get rid of it.
#8. Opt-Out of User Experience Program and Diagnostic Data Collection
If enabled, Xiaomi can collect how you use your device to improve its future services.
You can disable the data collection of your device usage by heading to “Password & Security” → “Privacy“. And then, you can find the toggle to opt-out of the UX program and data usage collection.
#9. Use Better Alternatives to Mi Apps
While I have already mentioned using a different keyboard app, you should also consider alternatives to file manager, gallery, wallpaper, and launcher.
For instance, you can use Google Photos instead of the default gallery app, Files by Google replacing the Mi File Manager.
Similarly, you can also choose to replace the default MIUI launcher with the Nova launcher or any other Android launcher of your choice.
Sure, the alternatives also collect some form of data, but if you do not trust Mi applications, these alternatives should do the job.
#10. Do Not Login with Mi Account or Sync with Mi Cloud
Everything else that you opted out will simply go in vain if you start syncing your data with Mi Cloud for added convenience.
It is best to stick to your Google account for sync and backup.
If needed, you can opt for applications like Truecaller to backup/sync your messages, contacts, and call logs.
#11. Disable Ads
When enabled, your data/activity will be recorded and used to serve relevant advertisements that promote applications/services that you may like.
Even if you disable it, advertisements are supposed to be displayed no matter what (but irrelevant to your activities and no tracking).
I did not notice any advertisements popping up in my case (with MIUI 12.5 on board), but it is better to disable it.
#12. Use NextDNS App
NextDNS is a free and powerful solution to block trackers and advertisements. Unlike some security extensions that you find for your desktop, NextDNS can even block device-level trackers for various phones that include Xiaomi, Samsung, and others.
So, you do not need any adblocker extension for your mobile web browser if you use this.
You can directly install the NextDNS Android app and use it as a VPN connection. Or, you can set it up using the Private DNS feature on Android. You can find the instructions on their official website.
Do note that NextDNS is an effective blocking tool to improve your privacy; it is not replacing a VPN.
#13. Apply System Updates
No matter what device you use, it is important to make sure that you apply the latest updates available.
Many users tend to skip the update or wait for a long time, fearing potential bugs. While that is understandable, you need to do it as soon as possible.
In case you did not know, Mi branded devices usually offer two Android upgrades and four MIUI upgrades. And the Redmi devices offer one Android upgrade and two MIUI upgrades.
So, if you want updates for a longer time, the Mi series of smartphones should be your preferred choice.
Android Gives Great Control for Privacy
It is totally possible to tweak the settings of your MIUI device to stop Xiaomi from collecting data by following a few easy tips. If you do not care a lot about the specifications of a phone but privacy, Xiaomi phones may not be the best option.
However, if you want to go for an MIUI-powered device for its value for money, you may want to consider following the tips mentioned above.
After all, privacy is one of the biggest concerns regarding gadgets used as daily drivers. MIUI may not offer a privacy-friendly experience out of the box, but it does let you control every aspect of your smartphone, which is a good thing.