Does the iPhone’s location-tracking functionality make it a “national security threat” by potentially revealing state secrets?
That’s what a Chinese broadcaster claimed last Friday. Now Apple has now weighed in, but its response, to say the least, is a little disingenuous.
In a statement on its website, Apple says that it has “never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services.” The company also says it has never allowed a government to access its servers nor tracked the location of iPhone owners.
The first and second claims are questionable because many countries prohibit companies from revealing requests for information. That’s why it’s become so hard for technology companies to discuss the veracity of claims that the National Security Agency has direct access to their data; it’s illegal for them to comment on the method through which the agency gathers information.
But the third claim is demonstrably false. In 2011, Apple started settling with customers who complained about the so-called “location-gate,” the catchphrase used to refer to the discovery of an unencrypted file in iOS 4 that revealed up to 10 months of an iPhone owner’s location data.
This makes it clear that Apple does — or at least did — track its users’ location. It didn’t share that information with other companies, but it did leave it vulnerable to attack, which even led to the creation of tools that generated an interactive map based on the unencrypted file’s data. (And that was hardly the last time Apple failed to properly defend its customers’ information.)
Apple might not have lied in its statement, but it did deliberately mislead customers when it could have been honest and admitted that its products aren’t as secure as they should be. That doesn’t mean the company is working with government agencies, or at least that it’s offering them access to its products and servers, but it does mean that using its products invites risk.
Of course, it’s not surprising that Apple would choose to downplay concerns in China. That’s the company’s dream market, what with the explosion of smartphone sales in the country, and it’s not going to jeopardize its chances in that market with a little bit of honesty. As I’ve said before: there’s no room for idealism in the tech world, and Apple is no exception to that rule.
[Image adapted from Thinkstock]