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As Apple battles the FBI, Microsoft just created a special government version of Windows 10 for China

Published Mar 28th, 2016 8:50PM EDT
Windows 10

Thanks to Apple’s recent legal wrangling with the FBI (which has seemingly come to an end), issues such as mobile encryption and government surveillance have been thrust into the spotlight. At the core of Apple’s dispute with the FBI was the bureau’s demand that Apple write an entirely new version of iOS that would effectively bypass built-in iOS security mechanisms.

DON’T MISS: Warning: Anyone can access sensitive info on your iPhone without even unlocking it

From Apple’s vantage point, helping the FBI access existing information stored on iCloud servers was one thing, but creating a modified version of iOS is where they drew the line. Indeed, one of the more interesting arguments to emerge out of the recent Apple/FBI controversy was that if Apple caved and agreed to create a modified version of iOS for the FBI, China might soon have a few demands of its own.

As The New York Times reported just a few weeks ago:

China is watching the dispute closely. Analysts say the Chinese government does take cues from United States when it comes to encryption regulations, and that it would most likely demand that multinational companies provide accommodations similar to those in United States.

With that as a backdrop, it’s interesting to note that Microsoft has already created a modified version of Windows 10 for China that comes with fewer games while also adding more security controls. According to a report from TechInAsia, Microsoft worked closely with CETC – a state-run Chinese tech and defense corporation – to get the modified version of Windows 10 up to snuff.

So what’s different about the Chinese government version of Windows? [Microsoft China CEO Ralph Haupter] told Caixin that it features fewer of Microsoft’s consumer-targeted apps and services, while including more management and security controls, in accordance with the needs of China’s government. Haupter didn’t divulge exactly what’s been changed or how different the system looks from traditional Windows 10, but he did say that it retains the ability to run any Windows-compatible programs.

What does this specialized version of Windows 10 mean for government surveillance in China? While no one can know for sure, The Next Web makes a smart point:

Whether those controls will allow the users to control or at least see the level of surveillance they’re being subjected to or not isn’t confirmed. But it seems more likely, given the partnership and government backing, that the security features will allow the Chinese government to keep a close eye on users.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that Microsoft a few months back stressed that it would retain full control over its desktop OS.

“Importantly, we will maintain ownership of the core Windows 10 technology while working, as we’ve always done, to allow customers and partners to build components that plug into our platform,” Microsoft explained in a blog post this past December. “We’ll continue to keep Windows 10 secure and sustain our strong privacy standards, while recognizing that public sector solutions may differ from technology offered to private sector enterprises and consumers around the world.”

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.