Chinese state television (CCTV) has labeled the iPhone a threat to national security because devices using iOS7 track and timestamp a user’s locations, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Although the feature can be disabled, the CCTV broadcast suggested the popular Apple product could leak information about the country’s economic status, as well as state secrets, to U.S. intelligence agencies.
CCTV broadcasts are influential and sometimes lead to changes in rules and policies.
China has long been the manufacturing base for Apple, but it has now become a huge market for the iPhone. In the most recent quarter, greater China—which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan—produced 24.8 percent of Apple’s global revenue. Sales in the region have increased by 13 percent, and iPhones make up 80 percent of the nation’s high-end phone market. Any strains in the relationship could mean a big financial hit for Apple, which did not respond to requests for comment.
The relationship between China and technology companies in the United States has been strained since 2013 when Edward Snowden charged the National Security Administration with seizing sensitive user data from U.S. technology firms under the PRISM surveillance program.
Following the Snowden revelations, CCTV called for “severe punishment” of several technology companies in the United States, including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Cisco, Reuters reported in June.
“To resist the naked Internet hegemony, we will draw up international regulations, and strengthen technology safeguards, but we will also severely punish the pawns of the villain,” the CCTV report said. “The priority is strengthening penalties and punishments, and for anyone who steals our information, even though they are far away, we shall punish them!”
David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, denied accusations of a back-door relationship with the U.S. government. “We provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law,” he said in an emailed statement.
Apple also denied the allegations. “Much of what has been said isn’t true,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an ABC Television interview. “There is no back door. The government doesn’t have access to our servers. They would have to cart us out in a box for that.”
Only time will tell whether the CCTV broadcast signals a dramatic policy change or is just noise.