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Apple rejects iPhone security risk claim

2014-07-14 08:41 Shanghai Daily Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Apple Inc has dismissed claims by China's state broadcaster that its iPhone location-tracking service could pose a risk to national security by revealing private information about users' movements.

China Central Television reported last Friday that data collected by the tool about the locations people visit is not secure and could be leaked.

It also said that because the location data is not encrypted within the iPhone's operating system, it can be recorded even if the function is switched off.

In the program, Ma Ding, dean of the school of cyber-security at the People's Public Security University of China, was quoted as saying that "the system will keep a complete record of when and where each application is used, even if the location service is not turned on."

Hu Xiaoming, vice director of the China Information Industry Association, said that "if data is captured about people who are linked to national security, it could be a significant problem."

Apple, however, responded by saying that the function cannot be used to monitor the activity of individuals.

In a statement posted on its website over the weekend, the US company said its devices "do not transmit any data that is uniquely associated with the device or the customer."

People with iPhones running the latest iOS7 operating system have the option to build a personal file of "frequent locations," which records the time and number of visits they make to specific places.

According to Apple, the main benefit of the service is that it reduces the amount of time needed to calculate a user's position to just a few seconds. This is achieved by using pre-stored WLAN hotspot and cell tower location data in combination with information about which hotspots and cell towers are currently being received by the mobile device, it said.

Well hidden

As for the location tracker, while Apple customers have the option to disable it — the default setting is "on" — the function is buried quite deep in the settings menu (settings-privacy-location services-system services), which means many users are probably unaware even of its existence.

Indeed, of the 60 iPhone users CCTV selected at random in cities such as Beijing and Qingdao, just five said they were aware of the function.

As well as establishing their default settings, when users install new applications on their iPhones, they must make the decision whether or not to allow the app to access the locator service.

App developers use the function to provide users with driving instructions, maps, and details of nearby restaurants or shopping malls.

Yet despite this apparent "sharing" of information, Apple said in its statement that it is all done "at the device level" and that it "does not track users' locations."

The company "has never done so and has no plans to ever do so," it said. It added that at no time does it have access to individual iPhone users' "frequent locations" data.

The company did, however, compliment the state broadcaster on its program.

"We appreciate CCTV's efforts to help educate customers on a topic we think is very important," the company said in its statement.

On a more serious note, it said: "Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services."

Despite claims of security risks, Internet users have joked that the function is more likely to be used by suspicious wives to check if their husbands are lying about their whereabouts.

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