Apple's iPhone branded a 'national security concern'

Apple's iPhone branded a 'national security concern'

Summary: Is Apple's iPhone truly a risk to state secrets due to location-tracking technology?

SHARE:
applestore_beijing2
Credit: Apple

Apple's iPhone has been labeled a "national security concern" by Chinese state broadcasters as relations between the country and US over cybersecurity worsen.

The influential state-sponsored China Central Television broadcast declared the iPhone a "national security concern" as part of its national noon broadcast on Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal. CCT criticized the "frequent locations" function present on Apple's iOS 7 operating system, declaring that researchers believe data points recorded by the service could give those with access to this data knowledge of Chinese concerns and even "state secrets."

Found in Settings, the "frequent locations" function is an opt-in feature that allows users to grant their devices permission to record places they often go, in order to provide useful location-based information.

The relationship between China and the US in relation to cybersecurity has never been close, but became far more strained following the leak of confidential documents by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden earlier this year.

Out of all the leaks which showed the widespread surveillance activities of the intelligence agency, the NSA's secret tapping of networks belonging to Chinese telecom and internet giant Huawei were of interest to the country, as were disclosures that suggest the NSA hacked major telcos in China to mine text messages — as well as sustained attacks on Tsinghua University networks.

The broadcast touched upon the Snowden leaks, and according to the WSJ called the US technology firms' databases a "gold mine." In addition, the broadcast quoted Chinese officials who insisted that Apple would need to "take on any legal responsibilities" if data leaks caused by the firm's devices caused harm.

In addition, the recent arrest of five "military hackers" who allegedly stole US corporate data by US law enforcement is not likely to have improved matters. Following the arrests, China's defence ministry said:

From 'WikiLeaks' to the 'Snowden' case, US hypocrisy and double standards regarding the issue of cyber security have long been abundantly clear.

Apple is the latest in a string of US companies to be facing backlash over tense relations between China and the United States, following questions raised by Chinese media in June over the security of Microsoft's Windows operating system and an earlier ban of the use of Windows 8 in government computers by the Chinese Central Government Procurement Centre.

See also: Four privacy settings you should enable in iOS 7 immediately 

Topics: Apple, iPhone, Mobility, Security, China

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

38 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Apple users are dumb from a technology perspective...

    Apple users are dumb from a technology perspective... so Chinese are getting paranoid...
    Owl:Net
    • Troll = FAIL

      You made no point whatsoever, and your opinion is of no value. Keep trolling, and maybe someday you will be successful at it. However, I highly doubt that. Next!
      thetwonkey
      • His only hopes for success..

        ...are to switch from trolling to serious commentary; to write much more entertaining trolls; or to go in peace.
        John L. Ries
  • Chinese government doesn't get

    People in the Chinese government don't seem to get that we don't associate big US corporations to the US government so attacking them doesn't really work as nationalist propaganda. In their view, the big companies and the government are basically the same thing.
    Buster Friendly
    • China

      Yeah but it works for THEM. If the Chinese government attacks foreign corporations enough, then a domestic company can step in with claims of "protecting Chinese secrets", etc.
      THavoc
    • Really? How many times have you heard

      the accusation that our government is bought and paid for by corporations?
      baggins_z
      • That's not an accusation

        That's a fact
        peterhelpme@...
      • That isn't an accusation

        It's BS paranoia and political rhetoric.
        gatormba2003
      • It's an exaggeration

        I'm concerned about the official corruption promoted by inappropriate corporate influence (what is good for General Motors may or may not be what is good for America as a whole; even if management thinks it is), but recognize that in a democracy (as usually defined), the influence of lobbyists is inversely proportional to public attention to, and concern about the issue in question (which means we need better informed and more engaged citizens). The effect of blanket statements about government being "bought and paid for by corporations" is to delegitimize the concept of representative government, which is probably the intent of those who promote the attitude.

        In the end, the buck still stops with the citizens, which is as it should be.
        John L. Ries
    • Not quite

      Most Americans who demonize "big government" tend to look on corporations as being the wholly benign instruments of free enterprise; mostly run by enlightened captains of industry dedicated wholly to the pursuit of honest profit (which by itself is sufficient to insure the public interest as long as politicians and self-appointed do-gooders refrain from interfering). There are, of course, exceptions; but that has been the primary theme of the opponents of activist government for over a century. The irony is that in the 19th Century, liberals were generally opposed to both centralization and economic intervention on the grounds that they mostly benefited the economic elite, but were detrimental to society as a whole. Conservatives didn't turn against interventionist policies until they came to be seen as undermining the existing socio-economic hierarchy.
      John L. Ries
      • The biggest difference between the left and the right

        is that the left realizes that (1) "de jure" government (especially the Federal) is not the only power that can and will violate your liberties, and (2) such government can PROTECT your liberties from those other powers. The first American application of these two rules was in 1861, when the FEDERAL government stepped in and said the STATE governments did not have the "right" to violate the liberties of some people by classifying them as slaves of others. Some Americans still dispute that outcome!

        And next came large corporations: who would ever GUESS that people who become so wealthy that they can afford to buy politicians and control the labor market, might not behave like perfect angels toward their workers, the public, the environment, etc? After their misbehavior (combined with the natural consequences of the unregulated market even when businesses are trying to do right) caused the Great Depression, federal protection of working people from bad businesses not only ended that depression but ushered in a "capitalist WORKERS' paradise" until the early 1980s. Since then, the removal of those protections (one of the big ones was Glass-Steagall) as "nuisance regulations" has created bubbles that finally burst in the Great Recession, the worst downturn SINCE the Great Depression.
        jallan32
        • Some truth to this, but...

          I think a reasonable case could be made that even many antebellum politicians recognized that the public interest and the self-perceived interests of the economic elite frequently differed, and conscientiously chose to promote the first; as they perceived it (I could name examples, but you can do your own research as well as I can and I don't care to get further off topic than I must). Some of the differences between then and now were that then, corporations were seen as instruments of public policy, not of free enterprise, which was best conducted by individual proprietors without limited liability or other special privileges; that then, what we now call "intellectual property" is a limited franchise granted for public purposes, not really property at all; and today, most of us understand that hands-off economic and social policies do not guarantee optimal outcomes, especially when wealth and political power are highly concentrated (though libertarians might rightly point out that many of the abuses that prompted the progressive reforms of the early 20th century were due not to laizzez faire, but cronyism and partial justice; combined with a polarized political climate that valued party loyalty more than an honest dedication to the public interest).

          My own view is that while government cannot do everything and should not try; and that governments should avoid doing for people what they can reasonably be expected to do for themselves; there is much that wise statesmen can do to promote the public interest that individuals cannot easily do for themselves, either individually or collectively. Voters and their elected representatives need to be judicious, need to prioritize, need to work within the constitutional framework, need to ruthlessly eliminate programs and policies that no longer serve the public interest; should actively work to prevent government programs from being used as a form of political patronage; should act at the most local level that makes sense; and above all should respect the legitimate rights of individuals and groups (especially the right to not be compelled to violate one's own conscience); but they should act whenever it seems appropriate to do so. Paternalism and statism do have associated risks and problems, but they are not the road to totalitarianism; emnity of the sort promoted by extremists in all ages (on both the right and the left) is.
          John L. Ries
  • The sad fact is

    that the only safe phone remains a BlackBerry. They may have gone out of fashion, but what they've always been capable of doing with security remains a key facet of the device.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
    • Not really about security

      This has nothing to do with actual security. It's a propaganda war related to the US government accusing the Chinese military of hacking into US companies to steal trade secrets. It's the same with the similar attacks aimed at Microsoft.
      Buster Friendly
      • Which attacks on MS?

        NT
        John L. Ries
        • Here's one

          I think this was the most recent: http://www.zdnet.com/chinese-state-media-labels-windows-8-a-potential-threat-7000030278/
          Buster Friendly
      • I clicked on this article for the wrong reason!

        As an American, I misread the headline as saying that iPhones were a threat to US security. Turned out that CHINA is complaining about THEIR security (i.e. their NOT being able to spy on their citizens as much as they would like). I have no problem with that!
        jallan32
    • no really

      The only safe phone is the one that's off and has the battery removed.
      greywolf7
      • Tough to do on the iPhone

        A tin foil wrapped phone, on top of being turned off, as an additional security measure.
        peterhelpme@...
        • Securing an iPhone

          Run the battery stone dead. Take the SIM card out. Place the phone in a perfect Faraday cage. Bury that cage a mile underground in the middle of an iron deposit. Build a skyscraper on the land above the deposit. Forget where you buried it.

          No phone is secure when it has a charged battery and SIM card in it.
          BillDem