China urges Apple to improve security and privacy

Senior Chinese government officials have urged Apple CEO Tim Cook to improve the security and privacy features of his company’s products.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission yesterday posted an account of Cook’s meeting with the Commissions director Zheng Shanjie.

“Director Zheng Shanjie said that the Chinese government will unswervingly implement the basic national policy of opening to the outside world, and the National Development and Reform Commission will continue to support foreign-funded enterprises including Apple in their business in China,” the post states.


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“I hope that Apple will continue to actively undertake corporate social responsibilities and strengthen data security and personal privacy protection.”

The director also pointed out that “China’s industrial digitalization and digital industrialization process, super-large-scale market, and huge middle-income groups will all bring a broad market to multinational companies including Apple.”

Apple is keenly aware of China’s importance to its business. In its most recent annual financial results [PDF] the iBiz reported $74.2 billion – almost 19 percent of its $394 billion annual revenue – was won in Greater China.

Apple CEO Tim Cook meeting China's National Development and Reform Commission

Apple CEO Tim Cook at the meeting with China’s National Development and Reform Commission – Click to enlarge

The iGiant has defended that revenue with acts like banning VPNs from the App Store to secure continued access to the Chinese market, censoring apps likely to earn the ire of Beijing, removing reference to Taiwan and reportedly requiring suppliers to list their products as having been made in “Taiwan, China” or “Chinese Taipei” rather than referring to just “Taiwan.”

The Development and Reform Commission didn’t specify how it wants Apple to strengthen its privacy and security tools, but the comments aimed at Apple may have been a reference to China’s recently strengthened data security law that bolsters the regulatory requirements for export of data describing Chinese citizens.

Or maybe Beijing doubts the fruitputer maker’s assertions that its products already protect users’ data from all prying eyes, and that it has gone out of its way to do so with offerings such as the VPN-like Private Relay and Do Not Track settings for apps.

At least one lawsuit, however, alleges that some of those features don’t work as advertised.

China’s government, meanwhile, conducts widespread surveillance of its citizens, censors the internet – including what information flows over its borders – and regularly reminds social media platforms of their responsibility to carry only content Beijing believes reflects proper Communist Party doctrine and values.

That stance means content about Alpacas and Winnie The Pooh is sometimes censored in the Middle Kingdom. ®