Xiaomi’s MIUI is much more than a mere “skin” that themes Android. Through MIUI, Xiaomi has done vast framework-level changes to the Android OS, altering the way the OS looks and functions across all of its devices. A lot of these changes come in the form of feature additions that add plenty of utility for the end consumer, and as such, many average users do end up liking MIUI. However, there is one aspect that all MIUI users unanimously dislike, and that is Ads.
MIUI has an Ads problem, for sure, and the problem has been aggravating in recent times, especially with MIUI 10 and in the Indian region. Back in September 2018, users began spotting banner ads within the Settings app, which garnered enough of a backlash from customers for Xiaomi to reconsider its decision. We recently mentioned it in our Xiaomi Mi 9 review as well.
Xiaomi issued a statement in a related case, which is integral in understanding why these ads exist within MIUI in the first place:
“Advertising has been and will continue to be an integral part of Xiaomi’s Internet services, a key component of the company’s business model. At the same time, we will uphold user experience by offering options to turn off the ads and by constantly improving our approach towards advertising, including adjusting where and when ads appear. Our philosophy is that ads should be unobtrusive, and users always have the option of receiving fewer recommendations.”
It is imperative to understand Xiaomi’s business model to understand how the company manages to make money, and why these ads are important for their existence. Xiaomi’s founder and CEO Lei Jun once mentioned how the company follows a “triathlon” business model — it invests in companies producing hardware, it sells these products through its online and offline stores, and it offers services to be used on these devices. The last leg of this triathlon, i.e. internet services are what will drive the bulk of the revenue for the company, and the other two are necessary to reach the last leg. In order to ensure that more people access these internet services, Xiaomi endeavors to produce smartphones as cheap as it can without compromising their quality, and to sell them at insane value-for-money. Their aggressive pricing strategy makes it very lucrative for consumers to opt themselves into the Xiaomi internet service ecosystem.
Monetization within MIUI
Xiaomi monetizes MIUI in two main formats: preloaded apps and advertisements.
Preloaded apps (what a lot of people call “bloatware”) are already present on the device when you first boot it up. Since Xiaomi devices are very popular because of their value, app developers are open to the idea of paying Xiaomi to preload their app onto the smartphone. Apps like Amazon Shopping, Facebook, Dailyhunt, Opera News, and Opera Mini, as well as Xiaomi-backed ShareChat come preloaded on the Redmi Note 7 Pro that we reviewed. To be fair and give due credit to Xiaomi, all of these apps can be completely uninstalled, even with a locked bootloader, but their existence and the steps needed to be free from them irks customers. All of these apps contribute to the daily barrage of ad notifications, and the average consumer is not always in a position to locate the source of ads on their phone.
The other format is advertisements. The most annoying ones are mainly found on the value-added-services offered by Xiaomi like Mi Music and Mi Video, and to the lesser extent, in the deep integrations (the App Vault, for instance). These ads are important for Xiaomi to continue providing excellent hardware at the aggressive pricing they aim for.
As the company insists, the ads are mostly unobtrusive as they take the form of banner “recommendations” pushed as a notification to the device. The issue is with the frequency of these ads, as well as with the sum total effect of the bloatware, the ads from the bloatware, the ads from Xiaomi’s own value-added-services, and the deep integrations. All of these get clubbed under the same heading of “ads on MIUI,” and each of them contributes towards hampering the user experience.
The Ad Problem
Noting Idrees’s experience on the review unit of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro, and affirming it through my own experience with XDA’s self-purchased Redmi Note 7 Pro:
Over the last year, Xiaomi has started showing ads in MIUI more frequently for some regions, especially in India. Ads and promotional notifications will inundate the phone unless the user nips them in the bud. Ads are shown in the MIUI Security app when installing any app, which is scanned before they can be opened, even though Google Play Protect negates the usefulness of this “feature.” The “Glance” feature on the lock screen is thankfully disabled by default, but enabling it will result in “news updates” being shown on the lock screen. Many of Xiaomi’s system apps such as the File Manager, Mi Apps, Themes, and others contain ads. The Mi Store app sends notifications for upcoming flash sales. All of this is completely unnecessary, and in the worst case, it amounts to a violation of user privacy.
Apps like the Browser have a giant feed of “recommendations” along with tabs and so much more. This can be compared to the list of recommended articles that also appear in Google Chrome. But in Mi Browser, the primary purpose of the UI leans more towards making this content more accessible, rather than letting you browse the web. There are even ads within the recommended content, the greatest levels of ad-ception that I witnessed on the device.
Here are screenshots of some of the ads that I encountered on my device.
Xiaomi does make it “easy” to disable ads, or recommendations as they call it. It is easy in the sense that you do not need to mod your device or even unlock its bootloader to do so. The added quotes were to indicate that it isn’t absolutely easy, as there is no singular switch that simply toggles away these ads. Instead, you need to individually disable them from several apps and through different settings menus.
One of the ads that I received on the device can be considered inappropriate, keeping in mind Indian culture. In Xiaomi’s defense, the ad appears to be a generic ad and not something that was specifically intended to be NSFW or objectionable. More of the blame lies on the video and the thumbnail for the video that the Music app served (Yes, the notification for the video came in through the Mi Music app and not the Mi Video app. You can play music videos from the Music app). Even then, there should be better filters in place to weed through content that is inappropriate for a younger audience. Stumbling upon such content within an app is one thing; being actively served a push notification for it is another.
Solution #1 – Disabling Ads
Since Xiaomi does provide a way to disable ads, we are listing them to make it easier to disable them. We understand that ads are integral to Xiaomi’s business model — as a news website which also relies on ad revenue, we really do. But the ads have become far too frequent, and in some cases, objectionable, to be easily ignored. We hope Xiaomi considers toning down the quantity of these ads to remove the need for articles like these.
These steps were carried out on a Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro running MIUI 10 Global Stable 10.2.7.0 PFHINXM build. The steps below should be fairly similar on other Xiaomi MIUI 10 devices.
1. Revoking authorization of the MSA app
Begin with the MSA app, which is short for “MIUI System Ads.” This app is not available on your homescreen. To disable it, go to Settings > Additional Settings > Authorization and Revocation, and select msa from the list. Click on the toggle, wait for the 10-second timer to pass, and then revoke. If you are not successful in the first attempt, keep trying until you eventually are. Revoking authorization for MSA should drastically reduce the number of ads strewn across the system. If it does not, keep on following the other steps.
2. Disable the advertising identifier
This is found at Settings > Additional Settings > Privacy > User Experience Program. Turn off the only toggle present there. This does not affect the number of ads, but it will no longer tailor them and collect information to do so, as it claims.
3. Disable ads from the APK installer/virus scanner
For this, install any application from the Play Store in order to trigger the APK installer to “scan” the app. While the scanning is in progress, click the cog-wheel Settings icon on the top right, and toggle off the “Receive Recommendations” option. You can also disable the security scan function on this screen, in case you want to.
4. Disable ads from Installed Apps
Navigate to Settings > Installed Apps, click the three-dot menu on the top right corner and open “Settings” and disable “Recommendations.”
5. Disable ads from App Lock
Locate it in Settings > App Lock and then click on the cog-wheel Settings icon and disable “Receive Recommendations.”
6. Disable ads from the File Manager
Open the app, open the navigation drawer from left, and go to Settings > About and disable “Recommendations.”
7. Disable ads from the Security app
Open the Security app, click on the cog-wheel Settings icon and disable “Receive Recommendations.” Next, within the same app, go to Settings > Cleaner as well as Settings > Boost Speed and disable “Receive Recommendations” there as well.
8. Disable ads from Mi Browser
Open the Browser app, click on the menu button on the bottom right corner, go to Settings > Privacy & Security and disable “Recommended for you.”
9. Disable ads from the Downloads app
Open the Downloads app, click on the three-dot menu button on the top right corner and disable “Show recommended content.”
10. Disable ads from MIUI Themes
Open the Themes app, click the profile button on the bottom right corner, go to Settings and disable “Recommendations.” You can also disable the “Personalized wallpaper selection” feature if you want to.
11. Disable ads from Mi Music
Open the left navigation drawer by clicking on the top left icon. Go to Settings > Advanced Settings and disable “Receive Recommendations“. You can also change update settings for the app from within the Advanced Settings page.
12. Disable ads from Mi Video
Open the Mi Video app, go to Account > Settings and disable “Online Recommendations.” You can also disable “Push Notifications“.
Doing all of these steps should, hopefully, get rid of the system-originated ads on the OS. As you can see, there are a whole bunch of steps involved, and the options are hidden in a manner that makes them easy to miss in several apps. But if you are determined enough, you can disable ads on MIUI without needing to unlock your bootloader or even connect your device to a computer. I used my device for two days after disabling (and for several extended periods of time during previous reviews) and did not receive any more notification ads.
Solution #2 – Deleting Apps
If you looked at the above steps and realized that those are a lot of apps to deal with, you are right. You have to jump through a lot of hoops to disable all ads, and even that does not guarantee that no (system) ads will ever touch your device again. If you do not intend to use any of these apps and want a more permanent solution (which you have to repeat every time you install an update), you can consider deleting these apps from your device, at your own risk. You can utilize ADB commands to remove the apps, or you can utilize several of the scripts and toolkits available across our forums to do the same.
I am trying out (unofficial) Xiaomi ADB / Fastboot Tools by Saki-Eu, since the tool is open source and has an easy-to-use GUI. All you have to do is download the latest version of the tool from its GitHub page, run the .jar executable and connect a device in ADB mode. There’s an instructions , FAQ and Troubleshooting page if you need more help.
By default, this tool only displays the apps that are “safe” to uninstall — this means you can uninstall these apps without soft bricking your device, but doing so definitely means that you are going to be losing some functionality depending on what you uninstall. There is also a reinstall tab in case you want to reinstall the apps back. You can also install OTAs or other updates normally, but do remember that these apps will return and you will have to redo these steps.
Solution #3 – Changing Regions
This is not a true solution, as changing regions may have an impact on your network functionality. Several features, like face unlock, are region-dependant too. But if you wish, you can set your region to any of the nations within the European Union. This cuts down on the number of ads by a good margin. This method may not be effective if Xiaomi begins heavily monetizing users in those regions too.
The Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro is a great piece of hardware, and I concur with all major points that my colleague Idrees raised in his review. One of the major downside with the device is MIUI, and specifically, the numerous ads strewn across the system and pushed onto your device. Hopefully, this article throws light on the ad problem, and offers some small relief to let users enjoy their device in peace.
We are beginning to see more and more devices in the low and mid ranges resort to advertisements in the system to effectively subsidize the device, and this is a worrying trend. We shall be exploring more devices in the future to see if the ad experience on them is obnoxious and unpleasant.
Note: Our article was underway before Xiaomi announced that they are looking to get rid of the really obnoxious ads on MIUI with future updates. The statements were made in connection with the Chinese version of the ROM, and we do not know if these decisions will carry over to other regions. Plus, there will be a time lag before the ads go away. Hence, our article continues to hold relevancy.
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