Tracking device: Chinese media declares iPhones ‘threat to national security’

Published: July 13, 2014
‘Frequent location’ function can be used to gather sensitive information. CREATIVE COMMONS

‘Frequent location’ function can be used to gather sensitive information. CREATIVE COMMONS


Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has accused US technology giant Apple of threatening national security through its iPhone’s ability to track and time-stamp a user’s location.

The “frequent locations” function, which can be switched on or off by users, could be used to gather “extremely sensitive data”, and even state secrets, said Ma Ding, director of the Institute for Security of the Internet at People’s Public Security University in Beijing. The tool gathers information about the areas a user visits most often, partly to improve travel advice.

In an interview, Ma gave the example of a journalist being tracked by the software as a demonstration of her fears over privacy.

“One can deduce places he visited, the sites where he conducted interviews, and you can even see the topics which he is working on: political and economic,” she said.

The frequent locations function is available on iOS 7, the operating system used by the current generation of iPhones released in September 2013.

“CCTV has only just discovered this?” said one incredulous Chinese micro-blogger.

The dispute is not the first time Apple has been embroiled in controversy in China, where its products are growing in popularity in a marketplace dominated by smartphones running Google’s Android operating system.

Apple lost a lawsuit against a Chinese state regulator over patent rights to voice recognition software such as the iPhone’s “Siri” just this week.

In March 2013 the Californian company was notably the target of criticism orchestrated by the Chinese media on behalf of consumers, who were critical of poor after-sales service.

And in 2012, the US firm paid $60 million to settle a dispute with another Chinese firm over the iPad trademark.

The privacy scare also reflects mutual distrust between the US and China after a series of allegations from both sides on the extent of cyber-espionage.

Leaks by former US government contractor Edward Snowden have alleged widespread US snooping on China, and this month it was reported Chinese hackers had penetrated computer networks containing personal information on US federal employees.

Apple did not immediately respond when contacted for comments on the issue. 

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Ahmed
    Jul 13, 2014 - 10:52AM

    I wonder what products Pakistani scientists, army officers, politicians and security personnel are using? I believe they all happily use Facebook, iPhones, whatsapp and everything that has a remote control in Pentagon’s hands. How bad is that?


  • iHBuTT
    Jul 13, 2014 - 11:35AM

    Apple have already responded to issue…


  • Haroon Rashid
    Jul 13, 2014 - 7:23PM

    iPhone is just lately endorsed by China Mobile the largest Chinese MObile Phone Operator, and the biggest Cell Phone Company in the world.
    iPhone for the Chinese market is subject security/surveillance tests, also the iPhone IOS 7 and later versions being the upgrades has to undergo by the Chinese authorities.
    China Mobile is the has the exclusive rights of IOS7 and iPhone in China and the terittories/regions where it operates will also be covered.
    China Mobile Pakistan has the exclusive official rights to sell, support, IOS7 its related software and hardware.
    This means the company Cell Phone with the 3G, 4G/LTE networks are likely support IOS7 and will be a surveillance tool for the vested interests.
    It is suggested that the regulatory authority should take immediate notice of this and should stop the use of IOS7 based hardware, and OS, and related smart phones from Apple.
    This looks like millions of spies on our soil, for the vested interests.


  • Jul 13, 2014 - 10:54PM

    ET: What is with Savaree app in pic? App developer must sue ET over this.


  • Mr Khan
    Jul 14, 2014 - 1:22AM

    Couldn’t agree more with the Chinese.

    Even if you turn off the location functionality, its just software. You can easily turn it back on without the user’s knowledge. Even Snowden has said that NSA has total access to iPhone i.e. can easily bug your switched-off iPhone, listen in to the microphone (hot mic) etc. Worse yet is the data collection by the ‘free’ apps that can access your calling list, contacts, installed apps et al. These “data bazaars” are essentially unregulated. Who do they sell this data to? So every time I see Pakistani politicians carrying iPhones as a status symbol, I laugh.

    P.S. NSA has already demonstrated that they can bug your computers or phones when you visit LinkedIn. Facebook and Twitter isn’t that far off.


  • Yankee Doodle
    Jul 14, 2014 - 7:07AM

    We need to know where you guys are and what are you up to!!!!


  • Hilarious
    Jul 14, 2014 - 2:55PM

    I am very sure that these Chinese media will term Android as security threat in future . Because this is just a software and can be embedded into any hardware . Chinese are cultured people and their history goes back to 1000 of years . Still some Chinese don’t understand basic things . Apple has already given the clue to world , now many will follow . No Chinese wall can block it.


  • yoyo
    Jul 15, 2014 - 2:46AM

    yes its true and thats the reason no senior military personal is allowed to use iphone in pakistan


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