China’s state-run TV labels iPhone ‘national security threat’

Mobile & tablets

by CBR Staff Writer| 14 July 2014

Apple denies allegations of location tracking app being used to identify individuals' activity.

In the latest move in growing backlash against American technology firms, China's state broadcaster has labeled the location-tracking function in Apple's iPhone as a "national security concern."

China Central Television (CCTV) zeroed in on Apple's "frequent locations" function offered on the iOS 7 mobile operating system, which records the time and location for the owner's movements.

In its broadcast, the network said that this feature could pose a potential threat to the country's security by gleaning data that could be accessed and manipulated.

However, Apple has denied such reports. In a statement titled "Your Location Privacy," the company said that it does not track users or share their locations with outsiders.

"The frequent locations feature was created so users can quickly and reliably determine their current locations for specific activities such as shopping, travel, finding the nearest restaurant or calculating the amount of time it takes them to get to work."

Apple also stressed that the data is encrypted and stored locally on the device; the tracking function itself is quite flexible, as in, it can be disabled in the device's settings.

The statement added:"Apple gives customers control over collection and use of location data on all our devices. Customers have to make the choice to enable Location Services, it is not a default setting. Apple does not allow any app to receive device location information without first receiving the user's explicit consent through a simple pop-up alert. This alert is mandatory and cannot be overridden. Customers may change their mind and opt-out of Location Services for individual apps or services at any time by using simple "On/Off" switches. When a user turns "Off" location data for an app or service, it stops collecting the data. Parents can also use Restrictions to prevent access by their children to Location Services."

China is an important market for Apple and has been a manufacturing base for the company for a number of years. 25% of Apple's global revenue came from greater China in last quarter, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, with a 13% increase in sales in the region.

Though it holds only 6% of the market share of China's smartphones, it dominates the higher end models priced at more than $500 in the country. Most of the Chinese government officials and executives are known to use iPhones.

But the channel's broadcast could spell trouble for the company. Although its does not represent the Chinese Government's official view, CCTV exercises considerable influence in the country. Some companies previously shifted policies or recalled products after critical CCTV broadcasts, as reported in The Wall Street Journal.

This is the second time CCTV has aired a negative opinion on Apple. Last year, Apple's chief executive Tim Cook publicly apologised after CCTV accused Apple of discriminating against Chinese consumers in its warranty policies.

In turn, Americans have also stepped up the pressure on China since May, after the US charged five Chinese military officers with spying by hacking into US computer systems.

IBM's proposed $2.3bn sale of its computer-servers business to China-based Lenovo Group also remains in limbo as the US government investigates security issues surrounding the transfer of such technology.

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