Apple has found itself at the heart of a fresh national security storm in China, with the iPhone branded a danger not only to individual users but to state secrets as a tool of the NSA. The accusations, made by state broadcaster China Central TV (CCTV) this week, are being described as the latest example of “post-Snowden” fallout, with the US surveillance activities exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden raising tensions between the two nations.
At the heart of the controversy this time around is the way iOS tracks location, and the potential for that information to be used for nefarious purposes.
According to one researcher interviewed by CCTV, positioning logs are “extremely sensitive” and could reveal details on economic situations or “state secrets”, though it’s unclear exactly how. CCTV also claims that location data is captured and stored even if the iPhone user turns the feature off.
The allegations are the latest in a ramping up of anti-American tech sentiment in China, and seem more intended to damage the US government than Apple specifically. In May, the Chinese government banned its departments from buying Windows 8 PCs, arguing it was high time its own OS became the dominant platform in the company.
Google’s tensions with the Chinese government, meanwhile, have long been high, with various blocks to services like Gmail and search over the past years.
Even if Apple isn’t the primary target, the potential fallout could be considerable nonetheless. China is Apple’s fastest-growing market, with demand for devices like the iPhone and iPad huge, and the still-growing audience part of the Cupertino firm’s roadmap for continued success.
The much-anticipated arrival of the iPhone on China Mobile even saw Apple CEO Tim Cook travel to the country in person to attend the launch.
With the iPhone 6 set to make its debut later this year, China’s value to Apple is only likely to increase. Whether seemingly politicized negative publicity like this latest one will do anything to dampen enthusiasm for the reportedly larger smartphone remains to be seen.