Last Friday, a China broadcast source declared that the Apple iPhone is a national security threat because of its built-in location tracking capability. Apple has formally responded to the accusation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, "the state-run China Central Television criticized the 'frequent locations' function in Apple's iOS 7..." as something that could potentially be used to track China citizens, gain knowledge of China's economics or even "state secrets."
Apple has responded to the accusation on its China website. Yesterday, The Loop posted the full English translation of Apple's response.
Basically, Apple reiterated its commitment to protecting customer privacy and explained how the location service is implemented.
"Our customers want and expect their mobile devices to be able to quickly and reliably determine their current locations for specific activities such as shopping, travel, finding the nearest restaurant or calculating the amount of time it takes them to get to work. We do this at the device level. Apple does not track users’ locations – Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so."
The accusation implied that those with access to the private data could use it for nefarious purposes.
The Apple response concluded: "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. It’s something we feel very strongly about."
The Escalated Privacy Discussion
What's interesting about this accusation and Apple's response is that that discussion about the privacy of the data on our mobile devices has escalated in an unforeseen way.
Those who were optimistic had always hoped that customers would push back against mobile device manufacturers if they overstepped their bounds on user privacy, and the makers would change their ways. In fact, the recent revelations about the NSA surveillance have raised all kinds of questions about how these devices really operate at the world's governmental level. That's created a situation where the manufacturers have come under a greater level of scrutiny which has global economic implications.
Fortunately, in its wisdom, Apple has always taken the high road and put customer privacy first.
And that brings up the reason why the China news agency made such a claim. It could have been for some temporary political gain or leverage. It remains to be seen if Apple's technical response can blunt the politics involved. Or it may just blow over like a summer squall.