iPhone in China Could Be Battle of the Bureaucracies

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The partnership between Apple and China Unicom to offer the iPhone in China has been officially announced. At first blush it seems like a coup for Apple to crack the vast China market, but can Apple deal with a communist bureaucracy even more notorious for doublethink, misinformation, and black-box secrecy than Apple itself?

China has made headlines in recent months with the Green Dam firewall controversy. The Chinese government mandated that all machines sold in China would be required to have the Green Dam Youth Escort web filtering software pre-installed in order to prevent access to porn sites.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that to be not entirely true. The software did block access to porn, but was also found to be denying access to other sites related to the Falun Gong and certain political keywords. Eventually China reversed the mandate amid global backlash.

Apple has its share of misleading press releases and disinformation too. Earlier this year it declared the release of the Safari 4 web browser to be a homerun, claiming more than 11 million downloads in only three days. It turns out though that the software was being pushed to users who didn't want it and probably wouldn't use it, but that those coerced downloads were included in the spectacular success story.

Apple is facing increased pressure and scrutiny from the FCC and FTC for questionable practices here in the United States. The recent rejection (or delay depending on the doublespeak you follow) of the Google Voice app sparked an investigation into Apple's App Store approval process, and the FTC is looking into the relationship between the Apple and Google boards of directors.

The Chinese version of the FCC, the Ministry of Information Industry, makes the FCC a walk in the park. Apple and other mobile device makers and service providers enjoy relative freedom in the United States (at least for now), but in China the MII plays a major role in every move that mobile service providers make.

The Chinese government is protective about the devices and information that its people have access to. Apple might feel that this deal is a victory that will lead to skyrocketing iPhone sales and higher revenues. But by forging this deal with China Unicom, Apple may find that working with China is more Pandora's Box than Holy Grail.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com .

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