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Chinese Army Bans Smartwatches, Wearable Tech Over Security Fears

The Apple Watch may be a popular gadget in China but leaders in the People’s Liberation Army believe smartwatches pose a serious cybersecurity threat.
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BEIJING, China — The new Apple Watch may be a hugely popular gadget in China but smartwatches pose a serious threat to the 1.6 million-strong People’s Liberation Army, according to the country's leading military newspaper.

The warning was a carried in a Liberation Army Daily report amid China’s effort to bolster cybersecurity and plug security loopholes created by overseas-made technology.

“The moment a soldier puts on a device that can record high-definition audio and video, take photos, and process and transmit data, it’s very possible for him or her to be tracked or to reveal military secrets,” warned the report, without naming specific brands.

The warning was prompted by one incident in a military district in East China where a new recruit received a smartwatch as a gift from his girlfriend and tried to use the device to take a photo of his fellow soldiers.

His squad leader stopped him and reported the matter to higher authorities, which ruled that such devices can harm military action and security.

“The use of wearables with Internet access, location information, and voice-calling functions should be considered a violation of national security regulations when used by military personnel,” the report quoted China’s top agency in charge of protecting state secrets as saying.

Neither China’s Defense Ministry nor Apple China media offices responded to requests for comments, but individual members of the Chinese army contacted by NBC News confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that smartwatches and other wearable smart devices are forbidden.

The army ban comes on the heels of a separate controversy over a Chinese television anchor who appeared on-air wearing what looked like an Apple Watch and was accused by some viewers of “showing off her wealth.”

Last year, China’s main broadcaster carried a report warning that iPhone’s location-tracking functions could pose a “national security threat”, a report which Apple has since denied. China has markedly heightened its cybersecurity vigilance in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden NSA leak.


Julia Zhou contributed to this report.