Apple says Chinese government requests for user data spiked

2 min read
Apple-Door
Doors in an Apple store on March 27, 2019. (Image credit: TechNode/Shi Jiayi)

US tech giant Apple handed over more user account data to authorities in China than any other country in the first half of 2019, according to the company’s biannual transparency report.

Why it matters: Apple’s report details the number of times governments around the world request information about the company’s users.

  • While the report does not include detailed information about the kinds of information that is released to authorities, it provides insights into the relationship between big tech and governments around the world.

“Account-based requests generally seek details of customers’ iTunes or iCloud accounts, such as a name and address; and in certain instances customers’ iCloud content, such as stored photos, email, iOS device backups, contacts or calendars.”

—Apple’s transparency report

Details: Between Jan. 1 and June 30 last year China’s government petitioned for information relating to nearly 15,700 user accounts in 25 separate requests. Due to US regulations, Apple can only release transparency data six months after a reporting period.

  • Apple said that it complied with 96% of China’s petitions for account information.
  • The company did not specify the number of accounts in each of the 25 requests, only that it complied with the majority of them.
  • Only one request related to content from user accounts, the company said. It is unclear how many accounts were included in this request.
  • Meanwhile, authorities in the US, Apple’s home market, requested access to data from 15,300 accounts.
  • Apple’s legal team reviews requests to determine whether they have a valid basis, according to the company. If no basis is found, the request is challenged or rejected.
  • During the same period, Apple removed 194 apps from its App Store for legal reasons following requests from Chinese authorities, accounting for 90% of removals worldwide.
  • The majority of China’s requests related to apps with “pornography and illegal content,” the company said.

Context: The number of accounts included in China’s requests has more than doubled compared with the second half of 2018, while compliance rates have fallen by 2 percentage points from 98%.

  • Apple in October pulled from its Hong Kong App Store a crowd-sourced police-tracking map app after state-owned media People’s Daily blasted the company for “assisting rioters.”