iPhone users in China are reportedly being bombarded with iMessage spam, many of them promoting illegal gambling.
Much of the iMessage spam in question links to WeChat account or gambling websites. Gambling is illegal in China, with the exception of two state-sanctioned lotteries.
The popularity of iMessage as a spamming tool apparently comes from the fact that spam messages sent via regular SMS messages are filtered out by China’s three major mobile carriers. As a result, they’re able to stop SMS spam by blocking certain objectionable keywords.
However, these carriers cannot do this with iMessage due to the fact that it is encrypted end-to-end. When asked about the problem, Apple pointed users in China toward its support page document, which allows user to block individual spammers by activating the “Block this Caller” feature.
To encrypt or not to encrypt
While we don’t doubt that there are spammers targeting users in China, we’d definitely be interested to hear from people in the country just how widespread this actually is.
In some ways, this story is highly reminiscent of another recent Apple news item, concerning another of its markets in the developing world. Currently, Apple is battling the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India over a government-approved anti-spam mobile app, which Apple has suggested violates user privacy. The “Do Not Disturb” app lets users report unsolicited marketing texts or calls as spam. According to Apple, such an app violates its privacy policies due to the fact that it allows the government to access customers’ call and text message logs.
In China, the question of end-to-end encryption has been a sticking point. Communication services including WhatsApp, Gmail, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and others have all previously run into problems in China, largely due to their strong encryption — which makes messages difficult for the government to monitor. This month, Apple’s iCloud data for Chinese users was meanwhile switched over to being under the control of the state-owned China Telecom.
Are these latest reports about iMessage spam exactly how they’re described, or is this another bit of negative publicity to push back against end-to-end encryption? If you live in China and have been affected by this spamming phenomenon, let us know your thoughts below.