China has recently publicly accused Apple of tracking users’ iOS locations. In response, Apple published a posting titled “Your Location Privacy” in both Chinese and English on Apple’s Chinese website. The website notes, “Unlike many companies, our business does not depend on collecting large amounts of personal data about our customers”, alluding to Android’s advertising-supported business model.
This past Friday, China Central Television network published a report claiming the iOS’ Frequent Location feature is a national security concern, as it may reveal sensitive information.
The same CCT network was behind a populist attack on Apple last year concerning the company’s warranty policies. According to CCT, Apple was “biased against Chinese consumers in its warranty and consumer service policies.” Tim Cook publicly responded, stating that a lack of public communication could lead to “misunderstandings’.
In response to the most recent allegations, Apple responded with, “our customers want and expect their mobile devices to be able to quickly and reliably determine their current locations for specific activities such as shopping, travel, finding the nearest restaurant or calculating the amount of time it takes them to get to work. We do this at the device level. Apple does not track users’ locations – Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”
Additionally, Apple gives customers the choice to enable or disable location services; it is not a default setting. The iPhone does not allow any application to receive location data without first receiving the users’ consent through a pop-up alert. While one can opt out of location services, this alert is mandatory and cannot be overridden.
Furthermore, if the user does choose to take advantage of Apple’s location services, the location information never leaves the customer’s iOS device. Apple does not obtain or know a user’s frequent Locations.
It is possible that this CCT report was retaliation for America officials on Thursday claiming Chinese hackers broke into US computer networks that hold personal information of government employees. However, my bet is that this is an attempt to get Apple out of the Chinese smartphone market. Apple has had troubling capturing that market, with only 10% of all smartphone shipments in China in Q1 2014 coming from Apple. China is notoriously known for making it difficult for foreign companies to do business in their country. While on the surface this news may look negative for Apple, it shows that domestic smartphone manufacturers are starting to fear Apple’s presence.