State media says the iPhone's ability to collect user location data is dangerous.
China's state media on Friday criticized the Apple iPhone's location and time-stamping features, going so far as to say the device is a threat to national security. Apple began selling the iPhone through China Mobile, the country's largest mobile operator, early this year.
Chinese broadcaster CCTV ran a report showing how data stored in the "Frequent Locations" feature can be rooted out and put to nefarious uses. Ma Ding, who runs the online security institute at People’s Public Security University of China, claimed, "This is extremely sensitive data" that could be used to take a snapshot of China's economy and "even state secrets." Apple was highly criticized in China last year over its customer service and warranty policies. Apple CEO Tim Cook bowed to heavy pressure at the time and offered an official apology in April 2013. Apple didn't immediately respond to this week's broadcast by CCTV.
Apple isn't the first American company to suffer from smear campaigns run by Chinese media in recent months. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have also come under fire for their alleged participation in NSA-backed spying schemes. Google's online services have been disrupted in China for more than a month. Further, the Chinese government has effectively banned Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system from new government machines.
China's actions follow charges filed by the US against Chinese military officers for allegedly hacking the computers of American companies. Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA and its in-depth, world-spanning data collection practices haven't helped matters.
Before Edward Snowden spoke up about the NSA, the US put pressure on Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE, restricting their use in US networking infrastructure. Just this week, the US claimed Chinese hackers broke into federal government computers. You can see where this is going.
The issue at hand really has nothing to do with the iPhone. Nearly all smartphones -- including those manufactured and sold in China by Chinese companies -- collect and store location data. The same goes for tablets. China's state-run media is singling out the iPhone because it is made by an American company, not because it represents more of a threat than any other smartphone in the market. The US is just as guilty as China at playing the blame game.
If you're really worried about how your smartphone collects and stores your location data, feel free to turn off location services. Most apps individually let you control whether or not they can access location data, and the GPS radios themselves can often be turned off. According to Apple, the Frequent Locations feature called "evil" by the Chinese media keeps data "solely on your device and won't be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing."
Here's a complete walkthrough that teaches you how to turn off your iPhone's location-storing behaviors.
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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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