Chinese state media have designated iPhones as a national security threat due to its location tracking features. China Central Television (CCTV), the country's state-owned TV broadcaster, said that the ability of the device to pinpoint the location of users endangers people's privacy and even compromise state secrets.
The report was especially critical of the "Frequent Locations" function in iPhones, which first appeared in iOS 7. The story alleged that the function can be used to track the movement of users and expose private information. The CCTV report does not necessarily mean that China's leaders are out to get Apple. However, at least one official is trumpeting the narrative that iPhones pose a danger to the public. The report contained statements from Ma Ding, the head of the People's Public Security University of China's online security institute. The university is under the country's Ministry of Public Security.
This is not the first time that Apple has been the target of accusations from the country's state-owned media. Apple, along with other American tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook have been pinpointed by the country's press as colluders with American surveillance agencies. A daily newspaper in the country had earlier accused Apple and the other companies of providing user data to a US spy effort to monitor Chinese communications. Apple has since denied giving the American government direct access to the user data of its customers.
The news may further weaken Apple's diminutive market share in the country. In the first quarter of this year, the company reported a modest 9% share of the Chinese smartphone market. Its rival Samsung, which has a long-standing alliance with Google and its Android operating system, has managed to avoid the same fate. It has beaten out cheaper, local brands such as Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE and Xiaomi. During the first quarter of this year, the South Korean firm cornered 18% of the Chinese market, making it the top smartphone maker in one of the world's most important markets. Research firm Gartner earlier projected that 440 million smartphones would be shipped around the world this year. Of the total, 35% is expected to be earmarked for the Chinese market.
Apple has categorically denied CCTV's allegation, saying, it "is deeply committed to protecting the privacy of all our customers."
"Privacy is built into our products and services from the earliest stages of design," the company said.
Apple also said it has never "worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services."
The tracking feature, Apple said, only helps iPhone users locate their position, assists in road navigation and helps speed up some applications. The iPhone user can also turn the feature off. The information gathered by this feature is stored on the iPhone and cannot be accessed by third parties, the company said.
"We appreciate CCTV's effort to help educate customers on a topic we think is very important," Apple said in its statement. "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."