Apple will help China fight iMessage spam

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iMessage
Users in China complain they're being swamped with spam on iMessage.
Photo: Weibo

Apple is working with Chinese telecoms firms to find a way to cut down the amount of iMessage spam customers in the country receive.

Apple has recently been under fire by state-controlled Chinese media for supposedly allowing users to be bombarded with illicit content through its iMessages. These are said to include gambling ads (illegal in China, aside from state lotteries), pornography, and counterfeit goods.

The problem was the subject of a 30-minute special report this week on the TV station belonging to the official Chinese state broadcaster.

“We are in touch with domestic telco companies to see what additional steps could be taken to reduce this inconvenience,” an Apple spokeswoman told Reuters. “We are currently working on additional ways to further reduce it, including more advanced machine learning models to identify it and more tools to block fraudulent accounts.”

A lawyer for the Beijing Vlaw Law Firm previously told the Wall Street Journal that, if Apple is failing to stop content which violates laws, it could find its services forcibly shut down in China.

Is this actually about encryption?

While it is certainly possible that this story is exactly as reported, it’s also important to note that China has often been opposed to the kind of strong encryption Apple uses for its services. Communication services including WhatsApp, Gmail, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and others have all previously run into problems for this reason — since encryption makes messages difficult for the government to monitor.

Spam is certainly annoying, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the fact that the emphasis put on this story could be a way to push back against Apple’s pro-privacy stance.

Apple was recently on the receiving end of this when it acquiesced to the Chinese government’s demands to move its iCloud data from its own servers to those under the control of the state-owned China Telecom.

Parallels with India

With this in mind, it will be interesting to see if Apple can reach an agreement on the solution to this iMessage spam problem.

Apple is currently engaged in a not dissimilar situation in India, where there has been a standoff with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India over a government-sanctioned Do Not Disturb app, which allows users to report spam messages.

However, Apple balked at carrying the app, which it claimed violates user privacy by allowing the Indian government to access customers’ call and text message logs. It now appears that Apple may back down on this issue after the threat of having iPhones booted out of India.

Source: Reuters