Over the weekend, I caught sight of a CCTV news report about China Unicom.
The report, which is also published here by the People’s Daily, suggested that Unicom had threatened to lock the iPhones of anyone who had bought their mobile from Unicom but then decided to switch to a rival company. China Mobile, for example, has been assiduously courting iPhone customers, offering to send them out a free micro-sim to fit in the mini-sized iPhone slot.
Unicom, it seems, will check the iPhone model numbers against the phone’s usage every month, and if customers have switched away, their number and phone will be locked "and a penalty will be imposed".
Unicom is upset because there are people that have bought their iPhones with a bundle of Unicom services for 5,880 yuan ($881), sold their phones on the black market (going rate between 6,000 yuan and 7,000 yuan) and then sold the sim to another China Unicom user with the 5,880 yuan of credit on it.
At the moment, China’s Apple fans either have to pay through the nose for a phone from a reseller, wait for weeks for one to be delivered from the Apple store, or take the plunge and sign up with Unicom.
But the company’s latest misfire has just deepened its general unpopularity. As one interviewee told CCTV: "Why would I now buy a phone from them? They must have something inside the phone to be able to lock it remotely – and I wonder what other things they could do to my phone."
Indeed, the very people who are likely to be most cynical about the abilities of Chinese state-owned companies to violate their privacy are iPhone 4 customers. Once again, a Unicom own goal.