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Chinese activist at NYU finds iPhone, iPad laced with monitoring apps

updated 03:32 pm EDT, Fri June 21, 2013

Blame placed on Chinese government, wife of activist Bob Fu

An iPhone and an iPad given to Chinese political dissident Chen Guangcheng had spyware preloaded, Reuters sources claim. Chen is famous for escaping house arrest in China and taking refuge in the US embassy in Beijing. The activist eventually arrived at New York University Law School on a fellowship; the spyware, which would've let the Chinese government track Chen's position and monitor his communications, was reportedly found through a screening by NYU technicians. The iPad was eventually scrubbed and returned to Chen at his request, one source says.

Some blame is being placed on Heidi Cai, who gave the devices to Chen as a gift in May 2012, after he and his family had moved into a New York apartment. Cai is the wife of Chinese activist Bob Fu, who runs a Christian group called ChinaAid, which helps underground churches in China as well as victims of forced abortions. Fu is calling the accusations "ridiculous," and "like a 007 thing." He states that he and Cai simply thought that Chen's family would want to call their relatives, and decided to give them communication options. He adds that a ChinaAid computer technician tells him "the only thing he added on the iPad was a Skype account."

A media consultant who has been helping Chen, Mark Corallo, says that the iPhone and iPad were "brand-new when ChinaAid gave them to NYU to give to Chen, so there was no need or reason to perform any check." He comments that "At least to Chen's knowledge, none of these devices was ever found to have any tracking or listening mechanisms." Reuters sources argue that Chen was told within days of his coming to the US that some of his supporters might actually be spying on him. Chen was "furious" and "very upset" when he heard this, one of the sources remarks. The activist is, however, said to have continued to associate with the Fu family.

Chen's fellowship was recently ended. He accuses NYU of bending to pressure from the Chinese government, and some of his supporters charge that the university is afraid of offending China while still aiming to build a campus in Shanghai. NYU insists that the fellowship was only ever intended to last one year.

by MacNN Staff





  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    "Just because you're paranoid,.."

  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Most likely, the Chinese government had someone break into his apartment while he was out and rig that iPad for spying. It has the resources and the motives. That's doubly scary.

    First, it means dissidents in China with iPhones and iPads have the same or greater risk.

    Second, it means that China has at least one covert-entry team operating in the U.S., a team that could be rigging spy software on almost anyone's computers or mobile devices. That could include industrial and military spying.

    It'd be helpful to know precisely what this spyware did and how we could determine if our iPhones or iPads are rigged with it. Perhaps Apple should release an application that'd perform a scan for anything suspicious. Given their growing sales to business and the military, they almost have to do that to retain credibility.

  1. The Vicar

    Junior Member

    Joined: 07-01-09

    Interestingly, Inkling's comment above has 3 ads pushed into it. Running over "iPhones" in paragraph 2 brings up an ad for the Surface RT, which is... stupid, but understandable. Same thing for "Apple" in the last paragraph.

    The other ad is also for the Surface -- but it was attached to "spy software" in paragraph 3. Hey, want spy software? Buy a Surface RT! :)

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