BEIJING— Apple Inc. AAPL -0.03% has come under fire by Chinese state media, which claims the U.S. technology giant isn’t doing enough to block texts and images trafficking in prohibited content including pornography, gambling and counterfeit goods.
In a barrage that began last week, China’s state-controlled news agency Xinhua and at least four state-supported media outlets have published criticisms of Apple for not doing enough to filter banned content on its iMessage service.
State broadcaster CCTV joined in Tuesday on another front, saying Apple’s app store allowed illegal gambling apps disguised as official lottery apps.
Apple declined to comment on the media criticism, but pointed to tools on iMessage that can help users filter or block spam and other unwanted content. The company has in the past said it complies with local laws for the countries in which it operates.
On Monday, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and other top government agencies said they would impose new requirements requiring mobile phone makers to include spam-filtering features.
The state-controlled media criticism comes amid rising trade tensions with the U.S. President Donald Trump this month threatened tariffs on virtually all Chinese exports to the U.S. With only about $130 billion in imports from the U.S., China has limited options for retaliation, say trade experts, who expect the country to either increase duties on U.S. imports or punish U.S. companies, including Apple.
China’s media has turned up criticism of international business during past international affairs disputes. During tensions over a South Korean plan to deploy an antimissile system, sales of Korean goods in China tumbled as state-controlled media encouraged a retaliatory campaign by consumers.
Apple depends on China for about a fifth of its revenue. When sales in the market fell 26% in the three months ended in March 2016, Apple’s stock tumbled to a low of $90.34 within months.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the order might affect iPhones, since Apple says it does have anti-spam measures. But a finding that Apple isn’t in compliance could lead authorities to shutting down any functions found in violation, said Yang Zhaoquan, a lawyer with Beijing Vlaw Law Firm.
In its news story, Xinhua quoted experts saying Apple could technically intercept and block messages with prohibited content, but chooses not to because it doesn’t want to be seen as infringing on user privacy.
Apple has promoted iMessage as a secure way for users of its iPhone, iPad and other devices to communicate, via encrypted messages that only the sender and receiver can access. The company says it can’t decrypt the messages and doesn’t log any messaging content.
According to Apple, users can automatically filter out unknown senders, which could help them screen spam. They can also report a spammer to Apple by clicking a link beneath a message. But reporting a junk message doesn’t automatically block the sender, who must be barred manually on the device.
Since its operating system doesn’t allow encrypted messages to be read, Apple’s iMessage isn’t as effective with spam filters as Google’s Android platform, which allows users to grant access to third parties to read their messages for better spam filtering, Counterpoint Research analyst James Yan said.