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Apple Lets Down Its Asia Users
If you are a die-hard fan of Apple products and if you, your company or business have anything to do with mainland China, recent developments involving the US tech giant can be construed as bad news, with deeper implications than what was generally thought and reported.
First, about Apple.
I have always liked the beauty and elegance of Apple products. I have owned two Mac laptops and an iPhone but I have shunned them as anyone deeply conscious and concerned about privacy and security should do. Edward Snowden, for example, who laid bare extensive snooping by the US National Security Agency, recently said he had never used the iPhone given the existence of secret surveillance spyware hidden in the devices.
Consider the latest news that Apple Inc. has caved in to Chinese demands for security inspections of its China-made devices including iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. The move understandably makes business sense to Apple [and its shareholders] as China is just too huge a market to ignore - so the Cupertino-based company [whose market capitalization hit US$683 billion last week, more than double Microsoft’s US$338 billion] realized it simply couldn't ignore Beijing's "concerns" about national security arising from the iPhone's ability to zero in onto a user's location.
Now pause right there. No, there's no typo above. And yes, the Android and Blackberry smartphones can also mark a user's location. So what's the catch? Figure that out - it's not difficult.
What Apple found they can ignore is the privacy and security of its die-hard users - after all, it has been well documented that Apple users were [and probably still are] known for their cult-like loyalty to the brand. Look no further for evidence than last summer when Apple announced its plan to host some of its data from its China-based users on servers based inside the country and claimed the company was not concerned about any security risks from using servers hosted by China Telecom, one of the three state-owned Chinese carriers.
The company has also denied working with any government agencies to create back doors into its products or servers... So surrendering to security audits wouldn't?
If only Apple users managed to chuck away their cult mentality and come to their senses about their privacy and security risks, the firm would realize the Google approach, though still not perfect, is a better way of cultivating brand loyalty.
And in case you're wondering, I use Linux most of the time - and shun the most popular Linux distributions to be on the safe side.a
Now next. And this is bad news with far-reaching global implications - and it's affecting not just only those based in China.
News surfaced in late January that some foreign-based virtual private network (VPN) vendors found their services in China had been disrupted following a government crackdown - which the authorities labeled as an "upgrade" of its Internet censorship - to block the use of VPNs as a way to escape the so-called Great Firewall.
The real impact is not merely on domestic residents who were cut off from YouTube, BBC/CNN news and other information sources but resident expatriates, multinationals, foreign embassies and those traveling to China, especially businessmen and executives. Think: Chinese espionage now made easy!
Many China-based internet users use VPNs to access external news sources but this is also bad news for companies and government offices based in China as well as anyone visiting the Chinese mainland - as many businessmen and executives use VPNs, as part of their company (and security) practice, on their business trips. Many foreigners and businesses residing in China also use VPNs for their day-to-day communications.
The VPNs provide an encrypted pipe between a computer or smartphone and an overseas server such that any communications would be channeled through it, which effectively shields internet traffic from government filters that have set criteria on what sites can be accessed.
And as China is fast moving beyond the "factories of the world" tag to become a global economic powerhouse and important trading partner to many developed and developing countries, this is one development to keep a close watch on.
Vanson Soo is a regional security consultant He blogs at Shhh--cretly, which can be found at the right side of Asia Sentinel’s home page