Chinese TV threw Apple a slow curve on privacy

China watchers who know more about the country than I say that western reports about a story broadcast on China Central Television last week — China Labels iPhone a Security Threat was the headline in the Wall Street Journal — exaggerated both the extent to which CCTV speaks for the Chinese government and the power of the state-run news outlet to shape public opinion in a country of 1.36 billion people.

In any event, what the Journal described as “the latest sign of a backlash” in China turned out to be a nice slow curve right in Apple’s wheelhouse, one that Apple PR hit out of the park the next day.

The CCTV story called the iPhone a “national security concern” and quoted researchers who claimed that iOS 7’s “frequent locations” feature allowed outsiders to gain knowledge of China’s economic situation or “even state secrets.”

iOS 7 does none of those things, as Apple was more than happy to explain.

“Apple does not track users’ locations,” it wrote in a careful, respectful response posted in Chinese and English on Apple’s official China website. “Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”

In fact, Apple considers the measures it takes to protect its customers’ personal data a competitive advantage — especially compared with Google (GOOG), whose Android operating system runs nine out of 10 Chinese smartphones.

In its response to the CCTV story, the company pointed out that “Unlike many companies, our business does not depend on collecting large amounts of personal data about our customers.”

“We appreciate CCTV’s effort to help educate customers on a topic we think is very important,” it continued. “We want to make sure all of our customers in China are clear about what we do and we don’t do when it comes to privacy and your personal data.”

The bit about appreciating CCTV’s efforts was widely picked up Sunday by Chinese news outlets, many of which passed along the full text of Apple’s response.

APPLE LINK: Your Location Privacy 

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at or subscribe (free!) via his RSS feed.

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