iPhone feature could be national security threat, says Chinese broadcaster CCTV

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 5:01am

A feature in Apple's iPhone that tracks a user's location could be a national security threat, state media reported yesterday.

The "frequent locations" function, available in the iOS 7 mobile operating system, could collect data even when the function is turned off, and could result in the leaking of state secrets, China Central Television reported.

The criticism comes amid escalating concerns in the government about the penetration of American technology companies in China and their role in US cyberspying.

Apple's website says the purpose of the function is to discover places that are significant to users. "This data is kept solely on your device and won't be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalised services, such as predictive traffic routing," it says.

Ma Ding, head of the online security institute at China People's Public Security University, told CCTV that anyone with access to the data could gain insight into the broader situation in China and "even state secrets".

"It clearly spells out where the user has been and at what time," Ma said. "When we consider the information of more than 100 million handset owners, we may find patterns in it.

"Even after you disable 'frequent locations', it doesn't change any of the background data. All your location data is still being wholly recorded. The only thing is you can't see it," she said.

To turn the function off, a user must take several steps, going to settings, privacy, location services and then system services.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

CCTV called the databases kept by US technology firms a "gold mine". Google and Facebook have previously come under criticism by state media.

China has taken steps to vet foreign IT products more carefully after Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency, said the organisation was spying on Chinese leaders and the US government was obtaining data through US technology firms.