China calls Apple's iPhone a national security threat

Chinese media point to the iPhone's Frequent Locations, a feature in iOS 7 that provides location-aware information.

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Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Apple's iPhone is under fire in China where state-run media claim it's a national security threat.

Chinese broadcaster CCTV on Friday reported the iPhone's Frequent Locations feature poses a potential national security threat. A researcher interviewed by CCTV said, if accessed, data collected by the feature could reveal the entire country's economic status and "even state secrets," according to Reuters, which earlier reported on the state-run news outlet's comments.

The iPhone's Frequent Locations feature, which was introduced in Apple's iOS 7 operating system, has been cited by privacy advocates as a potential issue. The feature allows Apple, by default, to track your iPhone's location and ultimately provide location-aware information. iPhone owners can turn Frequent Locations off in their device's privacy settings.

Over the last several years, China and the United States have been fighting a not-so-secret cyberwar. Location-aware features have long been a concern for privacy advocates, but China has claimed such features are evidence that American companies are cooperating with the US government programs to monitor China.

It's possible, though not confirmed, that this CCTV report was retaliation for American officials on Thursday saying Chinese hackers broke into US computer networks that house the personal information of federal employees. China often responds to US accusations of cyberspying by taking aim at American tech companies. Apple, Cisco, Google, IBM, and Microsoft are just a few of the tech companies to get caught in the crossfire.

Still, Apple can't be happy to be mentioned in the CCTV report. Apple CEO Tim Cook has consistently said China is his company's second most important market. Apple's partnership with Chinese mobile carrier China Mobile announced at the end of last year means Apple's market share in the country could expand rapidly. Having state-run media dousing the flames on its growth is nothing if not concerning for Apple.

CNET has contacted Apple for comment on the claims. We will update this story when we have more information.

Update, July 12 at 1:02 p.m. PT: Apple has issued a response. You can read about that here.

 

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