Apple, Microsoft, Google Targeted By Chinese Security Reviews Over Encryption Fears

It's fair to say that relations between the U.S. and China are strained, especially in regards to technology. Security researchers have often traced cyberattacks big and small back to China, for which the Chinese government often denies, and there's contention over shipping products to the region. The latter is likely to escalate as China ramps up its security reviews on U.S. tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft.

China has a deep distrust of technology products originating from the U.S. As a result, China's been conducting more intensive reviews of tech companies with a focus on encryption and data storage products. According to anonymous sources who spoke with The New York Times, executives or employees of foreign tech firms must answer questions about their company's products in person.

Apple Store in China
Hangzhou West Lake Apple Store

There's a special committee with ties to the Cyberspace Administration of China that conducts these reviews. The committee includes experts and engineers linked to China's military and security agencies. It's not unlike the reviews the U.S. conducts for foreign products, though this level of scrutiny is typically reserved for products that are used by the military or parts of the government.

China's reviews apply to a wider range of products, including consumer goods, and there's a fear that they could be used to extort trade secrets. Companies that fail to fork over details about how their products work could risk not being allowed access to the Chinese market. And if a company does comply, those secrets could end up leaked to competitors.

The concern that American tech products are spy gadgets for the U.S. government isn't new. China has a history of making demands with regards to hardware and software that's shipped into the country. In January of last year, it wanted U.S. companies to hand over their source code and use state-sanctioned encryption. A month later, China booted Apple, Intel, and Cisco from the government's approved purchase list.

Tech companies outside China fear that these reviews could set a precedent for other nations to follow, with each one making their own set of demands in exchange for market access.