Why China Just Labeled The iPhone A National Security Threat

CREDIT: Shutterstock
CREDIT: Shutterstock

A Chinese broadcaster has labeled Apple’s iPhone a national security threat because of the device’s location tracking abilities.

The state-run China Central Television (CCTV) reported Friday that the iPhone’s iOS 7 operating system could give foreign governments valuable insight regarding China’s national intelligence and economic dealings because it logs users’ locations and timestamps of frequently visited areas.


The report called Apple’s trove of location data a “gold mine,” and said that the company would be legally culpable if there was a data breach, according to The Wall Street Journal. While its unclear whether China will impose a policy change regarding Apple products, CCTV’s broadcasts have been known to influence the company’s dealings. In 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cook made a public apology after the news station accused the company of discriminating against Chinese customers in its warranty policies.

Apple also dodged a lawsuit involving the location tracking features CCTV criticized. The lawsuit, which was filed in 2011 and dismissed last year, claimed that storing Wi-Fi tower location data violated Apple’s terms agreement and users’ privacy. For example, the location of any saved or commonly used Wi-Fi networks on an Apple device would get recorded regardless of whether the device’s location services was turned on. The suit also claimed Apple intentionally made it easier to send iPhone users’ personal information to third-party app developers without permission.

U.S.-based tech companies have been working to repair their image in the wake of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) leaks in 2013, where the public learned how Internet companies such as Google gave the agency backdoor access to their databases. The document leaks also showed that the U.S. government could tap iPhones and other Apple devices through its controversial PRISM program. Apple denied the claims.

But China’s suspicions of improper U.S. surveillance cuts both ways. CCTV’s report comes after U.S. Department of Justice charged five Chinese hackers working for the military with espionage. Soon after, China called for an end to the NSA’s “unscrupulous” spying efforts uncovered by former agency contractor Edward Snowden. Moreover, the NSA intercepted and bugged Internet routers headed for China with spyware. China did something similar: Several years ago, Chinese tech firm Huawei was accused of embedding surveillance hardware in Chinese electronics manufactured destined for the United States.