Tim Cook says Chinese iPhones are secure, the NYT says they aren’t (video)

In 4,000 words starting on its front page, the New York Times tries and fails to prove that Xi Jinping has pulled a fast one on Apple.

From “Censorship, Surveillance and Profits: A Hard Bargain for Apple in China“:

On the outskirts of this city in a poor, mountainous province in southwestern China, men in hard hats recently put the finishing touches on a white building a quarter-mile long with few windows and a tall surrounding wall. There was little sign of its purpose, apart from the flags of Apple and China flying out front, side by side.

Inside, Apple was preparing to store the personal data of its Chinese customers on computer servers run by a state-owned Chinese firm.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has said the data is safe. But at the data center in Guiyang, which Apple hoped would be completed by next month, and another in the Inner Mongolia region, Apple has largely (emphasis mine) ceded control to the Chinese government.

“Largely” here is meant to cover the hole at the center of this 4,000-word front-page story. The New York Times implies the data on Chinese iPhones has been compromised. Tim Cook says it hasn’t. Cue the video:

My take: Did the Times’ reporting show that Tim Cook was wrong? You have to read 40 paragraphs before you get to this…

Documents reviewed by The Times do not show that the Chinese government has gained access to the data. They only indicate that Apple has made compromises that make it easier for the government to do so.


  1. Robert Varipapa said:
    Very difficult situation.

    Apple has to follow the laws of the countries in which it operates. Which is a problem not only in China but also in other totalitarian or fascist/authoritarian regimes (and there are many!)

    If the US passed ‘back-door’ laws, Apple (and Google, FB, etc.) would have no option but to comply.

    Only solution: Vote and support organization like the EFF https://www.eff.org

    May 18, 2021
  2. Jerry Doyle said:
    Astute intelligence experts, journalists and students of China’s Communist Party all have a keen eye for the telling detail that penetrates the veil of secrecy about how the CCP rules China, how it keeps track of its members, its citizens, how it keeps its military under control AND, how it penetrates businesses. A quote by a reputable university professor in Beijing is spot-on when the professor coined the phrase, “…The Party is like God. He is everywhere. You just can’t see him.”

    At all the major state companies, the Party oversees the board meetings where operating costs, capital commitments and the like are discussed, but personnel remains in the hands of the Party. No matter assurances rendered from American CEOs and no matter how many independent directors there are and what oversight they provide, at the end of the day, if all management are appointed by the Party, the Party runs all aspects of the operations. Look no further than Jack Ma. If one runs a foul of not following the Party’s edict, then one will feel quickly the deliberate element of surprise sprung from the Party much as it might enrage the executives, investors, it serves the Party’s purposes perfectly, by reminding all who’s boss.

    May 18, 2021
  3. Fred Stein said:
    Interesting points, Jerry, thanks.

    Tencent, 40% owner of Epic, may have more than a financial stake in Epic and the trial.

    Just my paranoid rant: Tencent may seek direct, without Apple’s safeguards, access to App consumers. No wonder they would be happy with a 12% vs. a 30% take, through their proxy, Epic.

    May 18, 2021
  4. Daniel Epstein said:
    Okay I finally read the NY Times Article. I think I can fairly say it falls into the same vein of NY times articles criticizing Apple’s practices as if business practices in a foreign country are the companies idea not the local law. Also saw a bit of one of the authors on CNBC discussing the article. Not impressed by the presentation. Frankly the article seems to be trading on Apple’s reputation and interest to get readers as much or more than revealing significant new information. If Apple did no business in China would the article have been written about how the Chinese Government spies on all its citizens? Doubtful. Seems like the emphasis on Apple cooperating with China is taking a holier than thou attitude. The US’s own FBI has been seemingly more aggressive demanding Apple change its technology than the Dictatorial Chinese Government. Is Apple perfect? The answer is no. Should they cut off their nose to spite their face? The answer again should be no. Do they have complex relations with many nations around the world that make it difficult to keep principles they believe in intact in all instances? Yes Welcome to the real world.

    May 18, 2021
  5. George Ewonus said:
    I don’t go to the NYT for analysis on Apple.

    May 18, 2021
    • David Emery said:
      I generally don’t go to the NYT. (Not just because of their treatment of Apple, but more generally their ‘investigative’ articles have become increasingly click-bait and suspect.) Wash Post seems to be a more reliable source these days.

      May 18, 2021
  6. Michael Goldfeder said:
    The New York Times lost me as reader with their coverage of the Duke Lacrosse case many years ago. After fueling their extremely skewed and biased narrative, which was proven to be beyond wrong on everything they wrote, they have zero credibility on anything published under their name forever.

    Turns out the prosecutor in that case not only was disbarred for his actions, but sent to prison. The NYT probably never issued a retraction for any of their strident articles. This is just another example of how they post grossly misleading headlines with the actual facts buried at the bottom for few to ever read.

    May 18, 2021
  7. Bart Yee said:
    Given that Android comprises the major portion (76%) of China’s smartphone and feature phone installed base, given that Android is “open sourced” so that app and malware developers can see into it, given that Huawei developed its own Harmony OS, Given that BBK (OPPO, Vivo, OnePlus, Realme), 2nd or 3rd largest smartphone maker by units sold and 36% of China’s market, the China market is dominated by Chinese Android brands. Given that alternative Android app stores also exist where all manner of malware can proliferate, I would expect the Chinese government to also have significant influence on how Android OS, data collection, and tracking occur within the OS systems.

    Frankly, I’d rather take my chances with iOS in China because Android was always built with data harvesting in mind as a primary “feature”, to be exploited by Google, but also by regional governments as well.

    May 18, 2021

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