Chinese media allegations false, iPhone is not a security threat: Apple

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Apple has released a statement in response to Chinese state media’s allegation that iPhone feature ‘Frequent Locations’ is used for tracking the location of users which can lead to spying. Apple statement mentions that the location data from the use of the Frequent Location feature is stored on the user device itself and is not monitored by Apple servers.

Chinese state media on Friday branded Apple’s iPhone a threat to national security because of the smartphone’s ability to track and time-stamp user locations.  A report by broadcaster CCTV criticised the iPhone’s “Frequent Locations” function for allowing users to be tracked and information about them revealed.

Apple said in its statement that as a company it is committed to give its customers clear and transparent notice, choice and control over their information. “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,” it says.

According to Apple, tracking location using GPS satellite data can be time consuming taking a couple of minutes at times. By activating the Frequent Locations feature, this time can be reduced to a few seconds, by using the 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 iPhone. “It’s important to point out that during this collection process, an Apple device does not transmit any data that is uniquely associated with the device or the customer. Customers have to make the choice to enable Location Services, it is not a default setting. Apple does not allow any app to receive device location information without first receiving the user’s explicit consent through a simple pop-up alert,” says Apple, thereby denying the claims made by Chinese news channel CCTV.

Access to Frequent Locations or the location cache on a user’s iPhone is not accessible by Apple as it is encrypted using the user’s passcode.

To clear further doubts, regarding fear of technology companies giving government organisations back-door entries to their data servers, Apple said, “As we have stated before, Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will. It’s something we feel very strongly about.”

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