Report: Apple to allow Chinese security inspections of iPhones

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple agrees to China’s security checks on iPhones.

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Apple Inc. The cybersecurity regulator recently announced government’s plans to enforce a new set of rules aimed at maintaining state security and protecting the public interest.Apple will allow the Chinese government to perform security inspections on its products to quell concerns that they are used for surveillance of Chinese citizens, according to reports.While there was no other information available on the paper’s website, the tweet echoes a report in the Beijing News (link in Chinese) that Apple chief executive Tim Cook informed Lu last month that Apple would let China’s State Internet Information Office conduct “security checks” on all products that it sells on the mainland.Apple is trying to make solid footprints the Chinese market, and plans to open up a number of retail locations in the region over the course of next few months.

Apple CEO Tim Cook — who doesn’t use social media that often — tweeted about “Starting Something New” in China to recognize the store’s unveiling. China has been concerned that Apple devices like the iPhone enable the company—or worse, US intelligence agencies—to spy on Chinese citizens. “There were rumors that Apple built back doors in its devices, and let third parties have data and access those devices, but that was never true and that we would never do that in the future either,” Cook reportedly said. Apple mentioned its trying to gain market share in China which is dominated by local brands like Xiaomi, and the Korean company Samsung as well, but with the launch of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the Cupertino company aims to penetrate the market even further. The director of the state department, Lu Wei, reportedly told Cook that China was one of the biggest markets for the company, but that inspection of products to ensure national security was essential. Roughly translated, Cook is said to have told Wei that, although there were rumors to the contrary, Apple has never had any security backdoors or provided customer data to third parties.

Wei reportedly responded that Apple’s products would have to pass security audits performed by Chinese officers in order to ensure they were OK for customer use. Apple has yet to comment on the Chinese reports although on its website, it promises to be transparent about how it handles request for information from government agencies. It is not clear how exactly Apple will accommodate China’s request while protecting its proprietary technology or how the decision will affect its privacy policy.

But given the People’s Daily emphasis on Apple being the first foreign company to comply, other big tech players, including Samsung Electronics 005930, +0.58% BlackBerry BBRY, +1.86% and Microsoft MSFT, +0.11% are likely to follow in its wake. Cook said in 2014 that he wanted to open 25 Apple Stores in China over the next two years. “We’re investing like crazy in the market,” Cook said, according to Reuters. “When I look at China, I see an enormous market where there are more people graduating into the middle class than any nation on Earth in history.” Still, it’s not all good feelings between the Cupertino-based company and China. The regulator said last year that it would launch a security review targeting IT products, services and suppliers preparing to enter the country’s market. A state-run television program in China accused Apple last summer of tracking people’s locations in China through the “frequent locations” feature on the phone.

Most alarmingly, Alpha added, an agreement would mean that “Apple users world-wide are much more vulnerable to spying from the Chinese government.” An Apple spokesman did not reply to an emailed request for comment. The company has come under fire from Chinese state media in the past, facing accusations of providing user data to US spy agencies and calls for “severe punishment”. The report said that “those with access to that data could gain knowledge of China’s economic situation or ‘even state secrets.'” Apple, of course, quickly rebuffed the allegations, saying that Frequent Locations are encrypted and not backed up on any sort of virtual cloud.

Google’s services have also been disrupted in China for over a month, while the central government procurement office has banned new government computers from using Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. The government wants to prevent Chinese computer systems from being controlled illegally, disturbed or shut down by problematical IT products and the services of some suppliers, as well as protecting users’ privacy, it said. Other US hardware firms such as Cisco and IBM have experienced a backlash in China from what analysts and companies have termed the ‘Snowden Effect’, after US spying revelations released last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. If that is in fact what has been agreed, it’s a landmark deal, Cavender said, and Apple has not generally provided such information to other governments. “This is a unique situation where China is such an important market to Apple, and they need to be in it.

The US launched a highly public offensive against the threat of Chinese industrial espionage in May, announcing that it was charging five members of the People’s Liberation Army with stealing secrets from US companies.

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