China’s state-run broadcaster has called the iPhone a “national security concern” because of its location tracking features, basically the same GPS-based features you can find on any modern smartphone and mobile platform. Apple has now released a statement via it’s China office claiming that it does not participate nor does it condone any act of spying using its products. However, the Chinese government might have been looking not for an explanation but for a scapegoat instead.
Last week, the Chinese station took pains to point out how iOS 7‘s location functionality is a very dangerous feature, and to some extent, they might actually be right, given how this technology can be used and abused for more nefarious purposes. But to back their claims with science, the station quoted researchers saying that this feature could be used to gain internal knowledge of China, including “state secrets”, two words that are sure to incite negative emotions among the populace. How iOS goes about that, however, wasn’t clearly explained and is itself probably a state secret.
A bit out of character, Apple actually took the station’s bait and published an authoritative letter explaining how it handles location data. First of all, Location Services have to be manually enabled to take advantage of its features, used for activities like shopping, navigating, and whatnot. It does maintain a crowd-sourced database of cell towers and WLAN locations, but this is the only data transmitted by iPhones. Apple doesn’t actually store location data on its servers, but only on the iOS device itself. And lastly, the company has not worked with any government agency to create a backdoor for spying, contrary to what rumors previously claimed.
That last part might be a bit contentious. What Apple does and what it knows it does is one thing. But what others do behind Apple’s back is a different matter, as exemplified by the whole can of worms that Edward Snowden opened. That can of worms has also caused countries, both allies and enemies of the US, to be more wary of technology coming from the global superpower, which might be the root of this recent Apple tongue-lashing. But it could also just be a way of getting back at the US. Certain powers in the US government have branded Chinese companies, particularly Huawei and ZTE, as vehicles for the Chinese government spying on the US. China seems to be only too willing to return the favor.
This latest accusation from the Chinese government couldn’t have come at a worse time for Apple. The company is just two months or so away from unveiling the iPhone 6, whose rumored sizes arguably cater more to Asian markets than to the US crowd. The company doesn’t usually comment or rumors, leaks, or even accusations, but this almost immediate response makes it all too plain that Apple is intent on maintaining ties with this huge and lucrative mobile market. Hopefully that market hasn’t yet become too wary of foreign, American or otherwise, products the way its government wants them too.