Apple, China, and the Violation of Users’ Privacy

November 14, 2021 Updated: November 15, 2021

Commentary

Apple has a “responsibility” to do business wherever it can. No country is off limits, not even China—a known violator of human rights. That’s the opinion of Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.

On Nov. 9, at The New York Times’ virtual Dealbook conference, Cook said in a speech that his aim was to achieve “world peace through world trade.” To achieve this, we must “acknowledge that there are different laws in other markets,” he said. In other words, we have no plans of extricating ourselves from the Chinese market—not now, not ever. The Chinese market is far too lucrative.

Apple sells an average of 10 iPhones every second; that’s almost 850,000 per day. A high percentage of these are sold in China. In its fiscal fourth quarter, as Reuters reported, Apple Inc. posted “a staggering 83% annual sales growth,” making it the phone of choice for millions of Chinese citizens.

Not only are a large number of iPhones sold in China, a large number are manufactured there, too. Like China, a country known for an unrivaled surveillance system, Apple Inc. is also in the business of surveillance.

If you happen to own an iPhone, I have just one question: is your mobile device spying on you?

On Apple’s website, under the privacy section, it reads as follows: “Privacy is a fundamental human right. At Apple, it’s also one of our core values. Your devices are important to so many parts of your life. … We design Apple products to protect your privacy and give you control over your information.”

In reality, the company appears to care very little about your privacy. “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone” sounds neat. Sadly, it’s completely detached from reality. As a previous Wall Street Journal investigation demonstrated, the idea of iPhone privacy is a sham. Third-party trackers collect users’ data without their permission.

Other Big Tech companies have been accused of doing the very same thing. However, with Apple, the hypocrisy is particularly distasteful. Worth more than $2 trillion, it’s now the world’s richest company. For years, in addition to offering stylish products, Apple has marketed itself as the people’s company. When Cook discusses the importance of privacy, he is passionate and even convincing. In 2019, he oversaw an advertisement that ran with the following line, “if privacy matters in your life,” then “it should matter to the phone your life is on.”

Apple, we’re told, is the “ethical” choice. It’s not. It’s all a lie. In many ways, the deceit is just as nauseating as the privacy breaches.

At any given time, as the WSJ report highlighted, Apple allowed—and presumably still allows—apps to collect users’ IP addresses as well as their precise geographical locations. In the words of Davey Winder, a writer at Forbes, maybe “Apple should change the advertising slogan to ‘invading your privacy—there’s an app for that.’”

For this piece, I reached out to Apple for comment on the matter; none were offered.

Any iPhone users reading this are encouraged to click on “settings,” then “privacy,” then choose the “advertising” option. Here, you can limit the ad tracking function on your device. As the aforementioned Winder noted, this will work to “prevent advertisers from getting usage statistics, including search history data. It will also mean you’ll see random adverts rather than targeted ones.” Small consolation, some may argue. Still, it’s something, rather than nothing.

Winder also advised individuals to “turn off location services for apps that you don’t want to be tracking your location.” Good advice. If you are an iPhone user, please take it.

Apple's New iPhone 13
People shop at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store during the launch of Apple’s new iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini in New York City on Sept. 24, 2021. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Mass Surveillance and Massive Profits

Again, I simply cannot emphasize the insincerity of Apple, the supposed champion of privacy. In recent times, the company has gone to great lengths to normalize, rather than prevent, surveillance. The privacy mythology is not reflected in the company’s actions.

As Wired UK warned, when it comes to “enhancing surveillance,” Apple’s latest iPhone is just as bad as previous models. All of those slick, new features only serve to “increase the amount of data collected.”

Scratch beneath the surface, as Wired encouraged readers to do, and “Apple’s contribution to the development of invasive technologies and the normalisation of surveillance becomes evident.”

With the iBeacon, a small, Bluetooth-powered tracking system, Apple created a device that allows constant surveillance of users. With its Face ID unlocking feature, Apple only serves to normalize facial recognition technology. The fears around facial recognition are very much warranted, especially when one considers the misuse of biometrics data, security breaches, and unethical/illegal acts of data sharing.

In recent times, Apple has floated the idea of offering a new service that will effectively work as a back door into every single iPhone. To create this entry point, the company must first compromise end-to-end encryption. Without encryption, as you are no doubt aware, privacy is impossible. The United States is home to 113 million iPhone users, and 1 in 3 Americans now own an iPhone. That’s a lot of back doors being opened.

The essayist William Hazlitt once wrote the following: “The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.” With Apple, Hazlitt’s words are particularly appropriate. None of the Big Tech companies are renowned for their ethical principles. Then again, none of them go to the lengths that Apple does to convince us that they do.

Fourteen years ago, when the first iPhone arrived on the scene, people were promised a superior product modeled around the idea of privacy. All these years on, the lie still persists.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the likes of the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, The Spectator US, and other respectable outlets. He is also a psychosocial specialist, with a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.