Apple refutes China report on iPhone threat to national security

iPhone maker dismisses suggestions that the "frequent locations" function on the smartphone can monitor the location of the user's movements, noting that personal data is encrypted and stored locally on the device.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Apple has dismissed suggestions its iPhone device is being used to track the user's movements and should be considered a national security threat in China.

The U.S. smartphone maker said posted on its Chinese website that location-based data collected by iPhone is encrypted and stored locally on the device, so it is not available to Apple or any third party. 

The company issued the statement in response to a report aired Friday by China's leading state-run broadcaster, CCTV (China Central Television), which warned that the location-based functions —specifically, the "frequent locations" feature — on iPhone were a breach of privacy. It said the function could track and record the whereabouts of the user and the data could be used to provide knowledge on "state secrets". 

This function is an opt-in feature on the iPhone that, when enabled, records places the user often visits in order to provide meaningful location-based data.

The CCTV report also mentioned the NSA-Snowden cyberspying revelations and described the databases of U.S. tech companies as a "gold mine". It cited Chinese officials who said Apple must "take on any legal responsibilities" if data leaks by the firm's devices resulted in harm to users.

In its response, Apple said iPhone users "expect" their device to be able to "quickly and reliably" identify locations for various activities such as shopping, travel, and measuring the time needed to travel to a destination. This data is processed at the device level and the company does not track the user's location, it added. 

"We appreciate CCTV's effort to help educate customers on a topic we think is very important. 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."

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