China reportedly bans iPhones from more government offices

So what? Smartphones are routinely restricted in, or excluded from, sensitive locations

Analysis Chinese authorities have reportedly banned Apple's iPhones from some government offices.

News of Beijing's ban was reported by the (reg-walled) Wall Street Journal, which mentioned people familiar with the matter as having said employees at some central government regulators were told not to use iPhones for work or bring them into the office.

The Journal describes the fresh orders as representing an extension of previous restrictions on iPhone use, but also reported it's unclear how widely the recent round of restrictions has been implemented.

The paper put the bans in the context of geopolitical tensions, China's desire for technological independence, and hinted the ban is perhaps therefore Beijing's latest move in the game of 4D diplomatic chess. The Journal noted that Apple shares tumbled 3.6 percent on the day of its story.

Perhaps Beijing, fresh from nixing an Intel acquisition, has shown it can take a bite out of Apple at the time of its choosing.

Or perhaps this is just Beijing taking sensible steps to improve infosec at government agencies and tired of Apple not doing enough to help.

That scenario is plausible. In March 2023 China called on Apple to make unspecified security improvements.

Another plausible rationale would see Beijing tightening security because mobile devices are dangerous.

Smartphones are routinely excluded from sensitive spots within government and have been for years. In 2018, for example, the Pentagon published regulations [PDF] requiring smartphones to be turned off and placed in secure storage rather than carried into the building.

The Australian Signals Directorate allows only devices it has approved to be used with data rated as "secret" or "top secret."

Other intelligence agencies around the world doubtless have similar policies.

Those policies are in place because users of mobile devices can seldom resist employing them for non-work purposes. Doing so creates opportunities for attacks that could compromise 9-5 activities – as shown by the spread of zero—click spyware like Pegasus.

With iPhones being so seductively usable, China barring them from government offices is therefore sensible – with or without a hint of some vulnerability or backdoor that makes Apple's wares dangerous to Beijing.

China has good reason not to antagonize Apple, which does most of its manufacturing in the Middle Kingdom. Beijing knows that jobs building iThings are at risk: India's press is abuzz with speculation the next iPhone could be made locally, as Apple adopts a "China Plus" strategy of diversifying its manufacturing activities into other nations.

If China has decided to hurt Apple it picked an interesting time to do so. Just last week, Huawei delivered its first premium smartphone in years, sparking a wave of patriotic triumphalism hailing the machine as a sign of China's resilience in the face of US sanctions. ®

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