China's state-owned media calls iOS location tracking a 'national security concern'

Posted:
in iPhone edited July 2014
A Friday afternoon report from China Central Television, the Asian nation's dominant state-run broadcaster, said the location tracking features found in Apple's iOS are a "national security concern" and worried that they could be used to expose Chinese state secrets.

Apple Store in Beijing's Sanlitun neighborhood
Apple Store in Beijing's Sanlitun neighborhood


CCTV pointed at iOS's "Frequent Locations" functionality, a feature that tracks the geographic coordinates to which a user most frequently travels -- their home and place of business, for example -- using cellular triangulation, Wi-Fi positioning, and GPS. Chinese researchers told CCTV that such fine-grained tracking could inadvertently reveal sensitive information, and "even state secrets," according to the Wall Street Journal.

Apple, along with many other U.S.-based technology companies, is seen as potentially compromised by U.S. intelligence services following disclosures by NSA leaker Edward Snowden last year. CCTV called databases held by those companies "gold mines" before suggesting that Apple should "take on any legal responsibilities" that arise if foreign actors were to gain access.

China is not alone in its wariness, though it is generally companies that provide infrastructure services -- such as Verizon or Cisco -- who fall most heavily under the microscope. The German interior ministry ended a contract with Verizon last month, for instance, citing spying concerns.

Apple has, however, found itself on the wrong side of the Chinese government in the past when it comes to consumer issues. The company suffered through an onslaught of attacks from state-run media last year over its warranty practices, which eventually yielded policy changes alongside an apology from CEO Tim Cook.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 66
    techguy911techguy911 Posts: 267member

    Between this and the recent court case loss, it sounds like Apple missed a protection payment to the CCP.  Once the Chinese politicians have been paid, everything bad will go away.

  • Reply 2 of 66
    jamesmcdjamesmcd Posts: 60member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by techguy911 View Post

     

    Between this and the recent court case loss, it sounds like Apple missed a protection payment to the CCP.  Once the Chinese politicians have been paid, everything bad will go away.


     

    Certainly my experience when living in China. There's no problem money can't solve.

  • Reply 3 of 66
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,060member
    techguy911 wrote: »
    Between this and the recent court case loss, it sounds like Apple missed a protection payment to the CCP.  Once the Chinese politicians have been paid, everything bad will go away.

    Twitter and Google are both blocked in China. I guess those two don't pay as well? :rolleyes:

    Concerns about Apple, Google and tracking, particularly with regard to cloud services, were mentioned at least a month ago in the US media....
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-0614-google-china-20140614-story.html#page=1

    and in China.
    http://rightwayssuccess.blogspot.com/2014/06/foreign-tech-firms-pose-threat-on.html
  • Reply 4 of 66
    So, if it's a problem, they can turn bro-location services off.
  • Reply 5 of 66
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Man how awesome would it be if we didn't need China for manufacturing. Or if the US government didn't need China to finance it's massive debt. Would be so nice to be able to give a big middle finger to the Chinese government.
  • Reply 6 of 66
    rs9rs9 Posts: 68member

    There are solutions:

     

    1.  Turn it off;

    2.   Leave the cell phone at home

    3.  Buy a cheap cell phone

    4.  Use electronics to jam the signal near government installations

    5.  Have one of the local manufacturing companies in China continue to manufacture clones. or

    6.  Formally ask Apple not to sell sell phones with this feature (don't now if this is possible)

  • Reply 7 of 66
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,013member
    rogifan wrote: »
    Man how awesome would it be if we didn't need China for manufacturing. Or if the US government didn't need China to finance it's massive debt. Would be so nice to be able to give a big middle finger to the Chinese government.

    Speaking purely about Apple's involvement .... All I can say is have patients grasshopper, Tim is slowly working on it ... ;)
  • Reply 8 of 66
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,013member
    rs9 wrote: »
    There are solutions:

    1.  Turn it off;
    2.   Leave the cell phone at home
    3.  Buy a cheap cell phone
    4.  Use electronics to jam the signal near government installations
    5.  Have one of the local manufacturing companies in China continue to manufacture clones. or
    6.  Formally ask Apple not to sell sell phones with this feature (don't now if this is possible)

    7. Very large EMP.
  • Reply 9 of 66
    fred1fred1 Posts: 288member
    techguy911 wrote: »
    Between this and the recent court case loss, it sounds like Apple missed a protection payment to the CCP.  Once the Chinese politicians have been paid, everything bad will go away.

    Sounds an accurate assessment.

    When you play with a dragon . . . you might get burned.
  • Reply 10 of 66
    charlitunacharlituna Posts: 7,205member
    All of which can been turned off by the user. So what's the issue
  • Reply 11 of 66
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,060member
    charlituna wrote: »
    All of which can been turned off by the user. So what's the issue
    The Chinese Government prefers policing these things themselves rather than letting users make the choice.
  • Reply 12 of 66
    ecatsecats Posts: 272member
    A lot of comments here say things like "turn it off".. they forget that location services are Opt-in *only*. When you set up your iPhone for the first time, or perform any major upgrade (e.g. iOS 6->iOS 7) the installer will specifically ask you if you'd like to use location services. Additionally any app or website that requests your location, requires specific approval. In iOS 8, even that want to use your location in the background need an additional approval.

    Unlike other platforms, you will -never- reveal your location unless you have specifically permitted such use. Same goes with the microphone, camera, your contacts, your photos, etc.
  • Reply 13 of 66
    john.bjohn.b Posts: 2,716member

    IIRC, in iOS 7, you have to turn on location tracking, it's off by default (i.e. "Opt In").

     

    It certainly could be easier to find, though:  Settings, Privacy, Location Services, System Services, Frequent Locations.

     

    What iOS gives you, that Android doesn't, is the ability to turn off features like this at a granular level on a per-app or per-feature basis.

  • Reply 14 of 66
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by techguy911 View Post

     

    Between this and the recent court case loss, it sounds like Apple missed a protection payment to the CCP.  Once the Chinese politicians have been paid, everything bad will go away.


    That was my first reaction, but it could also be that they refused to provide the Chinese government with tracking information, or allowing them to turn tracking on stealthily. At any rate, it's obvious that the government's complaint is completely baseless, so there definitely is some sort of power play here.

  • Reply 15 of 66
    tjwaltjwal Posts: 404member
    charlituna wrote: »
    All of which can been turned off by the user. So what's the issue

    The concern is that if IOS has been compromosed by the NSA then you only think you are turning it off.
  • Reply 16 of 66
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,991member

    Location services are handled by a combination of WiFi tower location and GPS. Without these, the iPhone doesn't know where it is. I'm sure all those Chinese government hackers programmers could easily come up with a way to stop all cellphones from using WiFi and GPS for location data. Of course, this would also handicap any mapping or legitimate GPS operation but homeland security always comes first. We have to remember that even though Americans complain about not being able to do anything they want to do, Chinese have always been in a much worse situation and I bet many would love to be able to do 5% of the things we take for granted. In the US, location tracking is also a national security concern but our government is glad phones have it because they can use it for their benefit and against us. I'm surprised the Chinese government is even complaining. Apple has created a built-in location monitoring system that they don't have to pay anything for.

  • Reply 17 of 66
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,060member
    That was my first reaction, but it could also be that they refused to provide the Chinese government with tracking information, or allowing them to turn tracking on stealthily. At any rate, it's obvious that the government's complaint is completely baseless, so there definitely is some sort of power play here.
    iPhones, iPads, Galaxy Tabs nor any other western tech would NOT be permitted in China if they don't bend to Chinese government requests. I can't imagine it would not include access to citizen data and location. IMO it's only a matter of time before any cloud services available to China's mainland will be restricted to those with China infrastucture and China storage of user data.

    Dropbox won't offer Chinese government access and they're now blocked in China. Google won't allow it either and they are also blocked. So is Twitter. Microsoft on the other hand recognized building servers in China and partnering with Chinese companies would give them access some others do not. They know how the game is played, so Azure is alive and well in China.
  • Reply 18 of 66

    When I was reading "Sting of the Drones" they had an interesting take on this iPhone capability - it sounds a little far fetched - but here's the excerpt.

     

    Excerpt From: Richard A. Clarke. “Sting of the Drone.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/Y0_LT.l

     

    “You can’t remove the battery from the iPhone like you can on most mobiles,” Dugout explained. “So it’s never fully dead, even when it’s off. It still leaks a little juice from the battery to keep the clock going and on the new iPhone it also powers the Find My iPhone app when the phone can link to an open WiFi network. It’s a fix from earlier versions of the app. It’s designed to find stolen iPhones even if the thief never turns the device on. It doesn’t search for a cell tower because that would drain the battery, but every hour it looks briefly for a WiFi network and when one sends out a ping to the Finder app, it will send back an ack packet, an acknowledgment, with its coordinates.”

    “So, how does that help us?” Erik asked.

    “Simple, we add the new antenna and software to a bunch of Preds over Vegas and establish open WiFi networks from them. We activate her Find My iPhone app and broadcast that out over the WiFi nets. If her device is still in one piece, it will get the message and will beep back its location. If we have two Preds up that can get the signal, we can triangulate to within a few feet.”

     

    So what say the huddled masses?

  • Reply 19 of 66
    clemynxclemynx Posts: 1,509member
    Because typing on the ONE toggle to disable location services on iOS is sooo hard!!
  • Reply 20 of 66
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,060member
    clemynx wrote: »
    Because typing on the ONE toggle to disable location services on iOS is sooo hard!!

    Users might not care. Chinese government agencies? They may care. In addition and as noted in a previous post it may not be possible to entirely disable access to location-reporting.
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