China says iPhone's location tracking services are a threat to national security

State broadcaster CCTV said the data could reveal "national secrets"

James Vincent
Monday 14 July 2014 09:10
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Chinese state media has warned that Apple’s iPhone is a threat to national security because of its capacity to track and time-stamp user locations.

A report by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) criticized the iPhone’s ‘Frequent Locations’ feature – an opt-in service that was introduced as part of the iOS 7 update last autumn.

‘Frequent Locations’ stores information about the iPhone’s movements which Apple says it uses "to learn places that are significant to you” and personalize services such as “predictive traffic routing”.

The report on the feature by CCTV included testimony from a researcher who described this as “extremely sensitive data,” adding that if this information was accessed on a large scale it could reveal a country’s economic situation and “even state secrets”.

Apple defended the feature, saying that the data is only processed in the device itself and that the company itself does not track users’ locations.

"We appreciate CCTV's effort to help educate customers on a topic we think is very important,” said an Apple spokesperson in a statement. "We want to make sure all of our customers in China are clear about what we do and we don't do when it comes to privacy and your personal data.

"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. We have also never allowed access to our servers, and we never will."

CCTV’s criticism comes as suspicion surrounding Western surveillance tactics reaches an all-time high in the country. Google has had its various web service disrupted for a month in China and government procurement offices recently banned the purchase of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system.

Meanwhile, the Chinese smartphone-maker Xiaomi (often dubbed the 'Apple of China' - a label it refutes) continues to grow, with the company launching its Mi 3 smartphone in India later this week.

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