In the current cast of the Big Tech theater production, Apple plays the role of a “privacy champion.” The company's practices may be objectively flawed, or at least very prone to abuse at any point down the line – however, compared to what Google, Facebook, and others are doing right now – Apple comes out smelling like a rose.
But weighing down on Apple's marketing strategy is the nasty issue of geopolitics, where the Unites States is targeting China and its tech giant Huawei – the world's number one ICT provider, poised to manufacture most of the planet's upcoming 5G networking gear. And in response, China could now be broadcasting a hint of its readiness to cripple the business of Apple – the US tech giant that is among the world's most valuable companies. The stakes, in other words, are high.
But now, China's Foreign Ministry is warning the rest of the world that Apple has allegedly been working with US authorities to “spy on ordinary users” for a decade now.
“As early as 2014, Apple acknowledged in a statement to have extracted personal data including short messages, contact lists, pictures from its users' mobile phones through a ‘back door' in its system. According to leaked information by project PRISM, American people barely have any personal privacy in data including their phone calls, communications, documents and voice recordings in front of US intelligence,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
“In addition, leaders from 35 countries – including some of America's most intimate allies – have had their phone calls monitored. Some of them have been monitored for as long as ten years. According to public information, the (sources that)] assisted such spying and monitoring were US companies including Cisco and Apple,” Hua said.
This comes as the US is stepping up its campaign to convince its allies worldwide to snub Huawei's 5G equipment as a spying operation.
With that in mind, the singling out of Apple by China's officials can almost be read as a warning that the company has, given the current geopolitical moment, become “too big not to fail.” i.e. – if Huawei's business suffers in the western-influenced world – so could Apple's in China.
For perspective: Apple has so far been left out of China's war on US digital interests. iPhones are very much sold in mainland China – that same market from which Google, Facebook, Twitter, and many others have been banished. It didn't harm Apple's interests, either, that its focus has been on hardware rather than content and services.
But now, China could be firing a shot across the leading US tech giant's bows that suggests: if your government plays its cards wrong, your future will exclude China's lucrative 1+ billion market primed to spend disposable income on overpriced status symbols. In other words, the very core of Apple's business model.