iPhones threaten national security, says Chinese state media

A Chinese state broadcaster said Friday that the Apple iPhone can threaten national security because of the valuable data that could be accessed in the smart phone's Frequent Locations feature.

Apple
An Apple iPad and iPhone run iOS 7.

A Chinese state-run broadcaster claims that the Apple iPhone is a threat to national security due to a feature on the smart phone called "Frequent Locations" that lets it keep track of places users have been. 

The report was issued Friday by Chinese state media organization CCTV. A researcher interviewed in the broadcast said the data available through this feature is "extremely sensitive" and that, if accessed, could reveal important details about the country's economic situation, according to Reuters. 

The "Frequent Locations" feature is available for users of the Apple iOS 7 mobile operating system. According to Apple's website, the data gathered by the feature is kept on the user's device and "won't be sent to Apple without your consent." However, the feature's default setting does let Apple see users' location in order to give them updates on places they may want to visit within their vicinity. Users can turn this setting off in their device's Privacy setting. 

This accusation underscores issues privacy advocates have raised in the wake of revelations of US spying made last year by Edward Snowden. Specifically, it illustrates the power of meta data, or data about data, that Mr. Snowden revealed was being collected by the National Security Agency. Knowledge gathered from phones that shows an individual's location history, as well as the meta data tied to that type of information, could be a real threat to national security, says Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of New York University's Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program.

"The Chinese government is basically saying that [meta data] is a really powerful tool," Ms. Goitein says of the Chinese media organization's accusation. "To me, this is one more data point revealing that meta data can be highly revealing."

Snowden also accused the NSA of spying on Chinese leaders and said US technology companies have handed data over to the US government. 

Apple has only a 6 percent share of the smart phone market in China, according to The Wall Street Journal. Worldwide, Android devices commanded more than 80 percent of the market, according to market research firm IDC.

Still, that doesn't mean Chinese consumers don't want Apple products. Roughly 80 percent of smart phones sold for more than $500 in China are iPhones, The Journal notes. Moreover, Apple is the most desirable smart phone in emerging markets, according to a report from the marketing firm Upstream undertaken with analysts from Ovum. That report surveyed consumers in Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, and Vietnam and found that 32 percent preferred Apple as their mobile brand of choice. Samsung was the next most popular brand with 29 percent.

This comes at a time of heightened cybersecurity concerns between the US and China, with reports stating that Chinese hackers broke into US government networks earlier this year.

American officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, recently visited Beijing for the sixth annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue to discuss ways of working together for the two countries' commercial and strategic interests. 

China is increasingly turning to its own domestic technologies as opposed to relying on foreign technologies. This past week, a Chinese court rejected a claim by Apple that challenged the validity of a Chinese company's patent that closely resembles Apple's Siri voice-recognition technology. 

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