Apple Denies Chinese iPhone ‘National Security’ Claim

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Chinese media labels the iPhone as a national security danger, but Apple vehemently denies the allegation

The hopes of Apple CEO Tim Cook making it big in mainland China have been dealt a blow, after state-controlled media branded the iPhone as a danger to national security.

A Chinese broadcaster warned that the iPhone’s ability to track and date-stamp a user’s location could reveal sensitive information; Apple has issued a swift denial, and sought to reassure Chinese users about the location services of the device.

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The Chinese media allegations come after the US filed hacking charges against Chinese army personnel in late May, when it indicted members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

That US move led to the cancelling of attempts by the United States and China to tackle the scourge of cyber crime together. The US has also recently accused Chinese hackers of gaining access to the computer system belonging to an American agency which holds all government personnel records.

All of this comes amid a backdrop of increasing anti-western moves from Chinese authorities. This has included making sales more difficult for Western companies such as IBM and Cisco, with Chinese businesses and banks replacing Western computers or software in favour of local offerings.

China also said recently that it would vet Western technology companies operating in the country. Meanwhile the China Central Government Procurement Centre has already excluded Windows 8 from government purchases, in order to “ensure computer security”.

All the while, online access to companies such as Google and other western companies remains disrupted or blocked altogether.

National Security

And now the Apple iPhone has been branded a national security risk, because of its ability to track (and time-stamp) a user’s locations.

According to Reuters, Chinese broadcaster CCTV criticised the iPhone’s “Frequent Locations” function for allowing users to be tracked and information about them revealed.

“This is extremely sensitive data,” said a researcher interviewed by the broadcaster. If the data were accessed, it could reveal an entire country’s economic situation and “even state secrets,” the researcher apparently said.

This is apparently not the first time that Apple has been singled out by Chinese media, which has previously accused the iPad maker of providing data to the US intelligence services in the wake of the Edward Snowden NSA revelations.

Apple has also recently lost a legal battle in patent infringement dispute in China over the Siri speech recognition technology.

Apple Denial

“Apple is deeply committed to protecting the privacy of all our customers,” the company said in a statement. “Privacy is built into our products and services from the earliest stages of design.”

Apple then went on to tackle the national security allegations made by CCTV head on.

“We appreciate CCTV’s effort to help educate customers on a topic we think is very important,” said the Cupertino, California-based company. “Apple does not track users’ locations – Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”

Apple went to explain how the iPhone gathers data about the user’s location, and pointed out that it never transmits any data that is “uniquely associated with the device or the customer.” It said that users can control the collection and use of location data on all its devices, because users have to enable Location Services, as it is not a default setting.

Apple insisted that it does not have access to Frequent Locations or the location cache on any user’s iPhone at any time. “We encrypt the cache by the user’s passcode and it is protected from access by any app.”

“As we have stated before, Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services,” said the company. “We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will. It’s something we feel very strongly about.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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