Pando

China's strange support for Apple's latest security features

By Nathaniel Mott , written on September 30, 2014

From The News Desk

Apple will be allowed to sell its new iPhones in China on October 17, according to a statement released by the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which is said to have delayed the smartphones' launch in China due to concerns about their security features.

China's government has grown increasingly wary of Apple's products in the wake of Edward Snowden's disclosure of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, some of which are said to have direct access to user data managed by Apple and other technology companies. (That concern goes both ways: the United States government has accused Huawei, a telecom-networking equipment provider with close ties to China's government, of spying on customers.)

Apple claims that it has never provided a backdoor into any of its products to any government. It also says that the latest version of its mobile operating system was designed in such a way that the company wouldn't be able to provide customer data even if it's served with a warrant -- a feature that's already led law enforcement to say the new iPhones will become the phones of choice for pedophiles and kidnappers -- because of the new encryption standards Apple used.

It makes sense for the Chinese government to be worried about Western tech products being used to gather information for foreign intelligence agencies, but it's strange that the country is allowing Apple to launch its new iPhones there even though it supposedly means that Chinese citizens will be able to keep their data out of the government's clutches. Something is just...off.

Many companies avoid storing data in China for just that reason. The government expects to receive any data it requests from companies with servers on its soils, and Apple revealed in August that it stores customer data in China through a partnership with China Telecom, a state-owned wireless service provider. Apple claims that China Telecom can't access the information on the servers because all of the relevant encryption keys are kept on servers in other countries.

So, to recap: a government known for wanting to control foreign companies as much as possible while also gathering information on its citizens is allowing a company thought to have been compromised by the NSA to sell its products in the country. All this, after being assured that there is no way for any government to get at that data, even though at least some of it will be stored on servers operated by a state-owned telecom company, without even so much as a hint of protest.

Seems a bit suspicious -- but let's all just go ahead and wonder if the iPhone 6 Plus is really as bendy as the media is making it out to be and congratulate Apple for making it into the world's largest smartphone market. That's a whole lot easier.