Monday, February 18, 2019

Is your smartphone counterfeit? Depending on your country, you have a 1 out of 3 chance that it is….

For many people around the world, the sad reality is their trusted smartphone and constant companion might be counterfeit.

A 2017 article mapped out the bleak reality:

  • 19% of mobile handsets sold internationally are counterfeit, according to a 2016 OECD Study 
  • 10-30% of total handset sold in sub-Saharan African countries are counterfeit devices
  • an estimated 40% of the 35 million mobile phones users in Tanzania would be using a fake device
  • in Nigeria, around 10% of mobile subscribers, which represents some 15 million people, would be using counterfeit handsets
  • in India, the number of fake handsets has been growing by 12% per year

These numbers are consistent with a 2015 study by the European Union’s  Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). A February 2019 report by the Kenyan Anti-Counterfeit Agency furthermore shows that the problem is still growing. According to this report, 70% of Kenyans would be using counterfeit goods, out of which mobile phones are the most counterfeited goods with 51.8% of devices on the market being fake.

Not only have many people been duped into buying a counterfeit and suffer the poorer service of the device including high rates of dropped calls and failed handovers, but they are being exposed to the dangers of in-built malware.

A 2015 research study showed that more than half of the investigated devices came with malware preinstalled. The malware was not just regular Trojans or simple malicious Android apps, but was installed at the system level, so it was difficult, if not impossible to remove.

Besides preinstalled malware that intends to steel financial and other sensitive information, fake phones rarely obey safety standards and can contain hazardous materials.

Countries try to secure their mobile networks against counterfeits 

Several countries have recognized the danger to consumers and damage to local economies that counterfeit devices present. Kenya and Tanzania for example have introduced Central Equipment Identity Registers against which all devices in the networks are checked. If they are not in the registry, users get warned and devices switched off.

Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have implemented similar systems, where network operators are obliged to validate, verify and control handsets operating in their networks based on their IMEI number, which uniquely identifies each mobile device.

The IMEI number is also used in the Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS), developed by Qualcomm Technologies Inc (QTI) and recently released as open-source software. It is being deployed in Pakistan from January 2019 onwards.

The Kenyan Anti-Counterfeiting Agency announced a pending anti-counterfeiting bill and plans to introduce an anti-counterfeiting mark for locally manufactured goods that will allow recording of an Intellectual Property Right that can be scanned with a smartphone.

In all these countries, millions of illegitimate devices are discovered in the networks every year, and their experience shows that not only an effort at national level but also at a regional and international level can curb the influx of counterfeit devices in order to prevent the dangers that these devices present.


OECD Report 2016: Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods

EUIPO/ITU Report 2015: The economic cost of IPR infringement in the smartphones sector

New tactics needed to stop smartphone counterfeiters, Magnus Moller Petersen, 2017:

Kenya: Mobile phones lead in trade of counterfeit goods - new study:

Counterfeit Phones are Full of Surprising Dangers, Neil J. Rubenking, 2015:

Pakistan: Cellphone users get 10 more days for device registration:

Fighting counterfeits: An open source system for identifying and blocking irregular devices in the networks:

Latin American Countries taking action against Counterfeit and Stolen mobile phones:

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