China arrests 22 over sale of Apple private data

22 people detained as part of an alleged US$7 million scam

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 4:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 4:31pm

Chinese authorities say they have uncovered a massive underground operation involving the sale of Apple users’ personal data.

Twenty-two people have been detained on suspicion of infringing individuals’ privacy and illegally obtaining their digital personal information, according to a statement on Wednesday from police in southern Zhejiang province.

Of the 22 suspects, 20 were employees of an Apple “domestic direct sales company and outsourcing company”.

The suspects allegedly used the company’s internal computer system to gather users’ names, phone numbers, Apple IDs, and other data, which they sold as part of a scam worth more than 50 million yuan (US$7.36 million).

The statement did not specify whether the data belonged to Chinese or foreign Apple customers.

After months of investigation, the statement said, police across more than four provinces – Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Fujian – detained the suspects over the weekend, seizing their “criminal tools” and dismantling their online network.

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The suspects, who worked in direct marketing and outsourcing for Apple in China, allegedly charged between 10 yuan (US$1.50) and 180 yuan for pieces of the illegally extracted data.

The sale of personal information is common in China, which implemented on June 1 a controversial new cybersecurity law aimed at protecting the country’s networks and private user information.

The law stipulated that those who illegally obtain and sell more than 50 items of personal information would be subject to criminal liability.

In December, an investigation by the Southern Metropolis News newspaper exposed a black market for private data gathered from police and government databases.

Reporters successfully obtained a trove of material on one colleague – including flight history, hotel checkouts and property holdings – in exchange for a payment of 700 yuan.

The Ministry of Public Security had conducted a six-month crackdown against illegally obtaining personal information last year, arresting 4,219 suspects. Among the suspects, 98 are hackers. The ministry said at that time it would continue the crackdown.

A newspaper published by the Supreme People’s Court reported on Thursday that a man in Fujian was sentenced to 11 months in jail for selling personal information between November 2015 and July 2016. The man earned 4,702 yuan out of the business.

It is not the first time for Apple to be targeted.

In 2013, the company was accused of not skirting warranty promises and making services policies that discriminated against Chinese customers by state media, including China Central Television.

Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an official apology afterwards. He promised to prioritize and streamline customer communication.

Additional reporting by Agence France Presse