Chinese city of Wenzhou spends $32,000 on cellphone hacking software: Report

Tourists using their mobile phones at a park in Beijing on Nov 27, 2014. Wenzhou city's move to buy a phone-hacking software has stirred debate about online privacy. -- PHOTO: AFP
Tourists using their mobile phones at a park in Beijing on Nov 27, 2014. Wenzhou city's move to buy a phone-hacking software has stirred debate about online privacy. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese city will spend 149,000 yuan (S$32,000) on Trojan horse computer software for monitoring mobile phones, state media reported on Thursday, after a notice announcing the move inexplicably appeared on a local website.

According to the Global Times newspaper, the police in the eastern city of Wenzhou plan to spend a total of 149,000 yuan on the software, which is "designed for unlocked iPhones and Android smart phones to monitor the saved call logs, messages, photos and other information".

A notice announcing the move was published last month on the website of the Wenzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone, the paper said. Screenshots of a chart on the development zone's website detailing the purchase circulated on Wednesday on China's popular Sina Weibo social network. By Thursday, the document - which some users speculated had been posted in a bid to increase government transparency - had been taken down from the website.

China's Internet users heatedly discussed the controversy, with some voicing concern about their online privacy. "Technological surveillance measures are like a Pandora's box: once you open it, it's difficult to control," one Sina Weibo user wrote on Thursday. "And what are the consequences if you lose control? Chilling."

Others defended the purchase as necessary for the police to protect the public.

"If they don't use a little bit of modern technology, how do you expect them to crack cases?" one user wrote.

Mr Xiang Ligang, an IT industry observer, told the Global Times that such monitoring of smartphones is "normal" in China.

But Mr Xiang added: "It is odd to see a publication on such purchase."

A Trojan horse is a type of malicious code that can force computers or smartphones to relay information to a third party without the knowledge or consent of their owners.

China regularly proclaims itself a victim of hacking, and a Foreign Ministry statement last month declared that Beijing "opposes cyber attacks and cyber terrorism in all of its forms".