The tech giant came under fire from China Central Television, which warned in a news report Friday about the iPhone’s ability to track the user using its positioning technology, and “view the user’s home address, unit information and whereabouts”.
CCTV, which has also previously called out Apple for being involved in electrocutions, also claimed that this information was still recorded even if an iPhone’s “Frequent Locations” service was turned off and suggested the feature, introduced last year, could reveal “state secrets” by passing the data to US intelligence agencies.
In response, Apple has posted a statement on its Chinese website, in both English and Mandarin, stating it has “never worked with any government agency from any country” on implementing intelligence gathering features in its products.
“Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take several minutes,” Apple stated.
“iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using pre-stored WLAN hotspot and cell tower location data in combination with information about which hotspots and cell towers are currently being received.”
“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.”
In April last year Apple CEO Tim Cook apologised to Chinese customers and pledged to improve its customer service after weeks of criticism from Chinese media about its warranties and repair policies.
This time, Apple made no apology or change to its services but instead responded with a clear but respectful explanation of its approach to security and privacy.
“We appreciate CCTV’s effort to help educate customers on a topic we think is very important,” Apple wrote in its statement over the weekend. “We want to make sure all of our customers in China are clear about what we do and we don’t do when it comes to privacy and your personal data.”
“Frequent Locations are only stored on a customer’s iOS device, they are not backed up on iTunes or iCloud, and are encrypted.
"Apple does not obtain or know a user’s Frequent Locations and this feature can always be turned ‘Off’ via our privacy settings.
"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," the company said.
"We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will. It’s something we feel very strongly about."