China Unicom is Tracking Your Mobile Browsing History, and Now You Can Check Their Database

C. Custer
10:00 am on Mar 8, 2013

Mobile users of China Unicom’s data networks, the company has some news for you: now you can check your own browsing history as stored on the company’s database. Unicom subscribers anywhere will be able to call the company’s customer service line and check their own history including sites visited, time spent online, and bandwidth used for any browsing session over the past three months. Users in select provinces will also be able to check this data via an official iPhone app. Of course, if you’re checking over the phone you’ll need to confirm your identity with your state ID number.

On the one hand I suppose this is a useful service, but it’s also a creepy reminder that ISPs — and not just Chinese ISPs — are tracking every website you visit and hanging on to those records. Moreover, Unicom’s new database checking mechanism makes identity theft an even scarier proposition: now whoever knows your state ID number also has access to everything you’ve done online with your phone over the past three months. I don’t even want to imagine the horrible things that could be used for.

Unfortunately, China has a pretty vibrant black market online that trafficks in stolen personal data like names and state ID numbers, which would be all you’d need to check Unicom’s new browsing history database. And the fact that the database will now be available through phone systems and an iPhone app might also make it easier for hackers to crack into directly.

In any event, there’s not much you can do about it. Other mobile providers are certainly already tracking browsing data as well, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them roll out similar services in the future. Consider this news a reminder that, wherever you are, you really ought to get a VPN.

(via Sina Tech)

  • Kevin

    Looks like my previous comment wasn’t approved for some reason. I tried this service out, and there are some interesting things you might want to know about it:

    1. It can’t identify what sites you visited through UCWeb, which works by downloading the webpage on their own servers then sending you a compressed version. Unicom’s report just has me repeatedly visiting UCWeb’s own website. Presumably the same thing happens with other browsers like Opera Mini that work the same way.

    2. After testing it, I received an SMS from China Unicom telling me that I’d checked my browsing history, along with the time and date. So even if someone *is* spying on your browsing history, at least you’ll know about it.

    3. Also, the message told me I’d used Unicom’s mobile internet site to check the history, not their iPhone app. So it seems like you can check your history that way too (the message actually said “WAP”, but in China that usually refers to regular mobile websites rather than the actual old-style WAP protocol).

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