China’s government is once again in the spotlight for cyber hacking as accusations fly that it attempted to retrieve user information and perform a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack on Apple’s iCloud servers. Initiated by GreatFire.org — a group that monitors China’s censorship of the web — the accusations arrived just after Apple’s iPhone 6 and and 6 Plus went on sale in the country. GreatFire says this is no coincidence.
China’s iPhone sales are forecasted to greatly contribute to Apple’s earnings over the next quarter as demand for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus continues. The growth of 4G in the country is also supposed to support the continued mobile expansion as more mobile users come aboard. Both factors could be negatively impacted by the reports of Beijing’s MITM attack on iCloud.
VISUAL CONTEXT: SMARTPHONE OS MARKET SHARE IN CHINA
While it may never be determined who or what is hacking into the iCloud accounts, the Chinese government will have a hard time defending itself against these claims given its history of web interference. Notwithstanding the ongoing accusations flung between the U.S. and China that both are hacking each other’s businesses and government data, the Chinese government has a history of inserting itself between its users and the internet. Website-removal and social media blockages are two ways the government decides what mainland users can see and contribute to. Any content that violates the country’s Seven Base Lines for acceptable web material is subject to removal or blockage.
Additionally, China has had a historically rocky relationship with Apple. It took years for Apple to command a good chunk of the Chinese smartphone market. Android-based devices have long been preferred by most mobile users in the country. Apple has struggled with striking deals with Chinese carriers, and has faced problems with the pricing of its devices as Chinese users traditionally gravitate toward mobile devices that cost far less than an iPhone. Not to mention the ugly labor problems Apple has had with its China-based factories, and the public protests that seek to highlight its treatment of workers.
Of course, these claims are exacerbated by the current focus on Hong Kong. The pro-democracy protests that have raged there since September have highlighted the huge gap between access to the internet and mobile apps in mainland China and Hong Kong. Whether or not the government is responsible for hacking into iCloud, it remains a tough time for mobile users and netizens in general on the mainland.