Apple Customer Data in China Was Sold Illegally, Police Say

Apple’s mounting problems in China, add official scrutiny over privacy.

The Chinese police said this week that they had arrested 22 people suspected of selling the personal data of an unspecified number of Apple customers. The police, in Cangnan County in the eastern province of Zhejiang, said the thieves had reaped 50 million renminbi, or about $7.3 million, over an unspecified period.

Many of the details were unclear, including the identities of those involved and the severity of the breach.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Cangnan police said they found that Apple employees had illegally acquired personal data, then later in the same statement said 20 of the 22 people worked for companies that sell Apple products or are Apple contractors. The police did not disclose information about the other two people. In China, Apple’s products are sold broadly, in electronics chain stores and small booths in shopping malls in addition to the company’s official Apple Stores.

The Cangnan police also said the data included the names, Apple identification numbers and phone numbers of Apple users. They did not say whether passwords or financial information like credit card numbers were involved, which would suggest the thieves had access to internal Apple data and would make the breach more serious.

The arrests are part of a set of broader difficulties in China for Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif. Sales of iPhones, still a sign of middle-class aspiration in China, have slowed, according to analysts, as the public waits for new models and as Chinese manufacturers of cheaper phones step up their quality and marketing.

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