As a showdown takes place between Apple and the US government over privacy concerns, some observers are beginning to question why the tech giant does not take a similar firm stance in the Chinese market.
While Apple remains defiant in the face of requests by the FBI to help decrypt an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, the company has pulled out all the stops to help the Chinese government by censoring its app store. Last year, Apple even went as far as to disable its own news app in mainland China for fear of upsetting the authorities.
Apple has recently moved local user data onto servers operated by state-owned China Telecom, which some say could provide the Chinese government with an opportunity to snoop on Chinese users.
“Whatever data is on Chinese servers is susceptible to confiscation or even cryptanalysis,” Jonathan Zdziarski, a leading expert in iPhone security told the LA Times.
“Most of the hardware tools that have hacked iPhones in the past all came out of China, and that’s probably for a reason,” Zdziarski said. “It’d be foolish to think that Apple could form a safe and healthy relationship with the Chinese government that didn’t put the U.S. at some level of higher risk.”
Curiously enough, last week Apple found an unlikely ally in its defiance of the US government, with Huawei publicly voicing support for its California-based rival.
So far Huawei is the only Asian device maker to agree with Apple’s stance on encryption. “We put a lot of investment into privacy, and security protection is key. It is very important for the consumer,” Richard Yu, chief executive of Huawei’s consumer business group, told reporters at the Mobile World Congress earlier this week.
However, he declined to go so far as to explicitly state that Huawei would adopt Apple’s same stance. The company is China’s leading phone maker, but has had trouble expanding into the American market, particularly after it was banned from working on US government projects in 2011 due to “significant security concerns.”
In the past, Huawei has struggled to answer questions about its ties to the central government, and when the Apple story broke last week, netizens on Weibo delighted in predicting what would happen if Huawei was put in the same situation.
“Huawei is surnamed the Party. Please inspect us,” commented another Weibo user, referencing Xi Jinping’s recent state media inspection tour.
“The Chinese Communist Party not only can get Huawei unlocked, but also disbanded altogether,” wrote one netizen.
“Huawei: We can also not provide information to the US government!” joked another netizen.
Meanwhile, Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing declined to say what his organization’s stance was, saying that the issue required time and consideration. “Today it happens to Apple, tomorrow it could happen to Lenovo mobile phones. So we must be very serious to consider. We need to take some time,” Yang told Reuters.