Chinese authorities detect massive theft of customer data by Apple employees

Chinese authorities said they have uncovered a massive underground operation run by Apple employees selling computer and phone users' personal data.

Twenty-two people had been detained on suspicion of infringing the privacy of individuals and illegally obtaining their digital personal information, local police in southern Zhejiang province said yesterday, in a statement.

Twenty of the 22 suspects were Apple employees who allegedly used the company's internal computer system to gather users' names, phone numbers, Apple IDs, as also other data sold as part of a scam worth over 50 million yuan ($7.36 million).

The statement made no mention of whether the data belonged to Chinese or foreign Apple customers.

The statement said, after months of investigation, police across over four provinces-Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and apprehended the suspects over the weekend, seized their ''criminal tools'' and dismantled their online network.

The suspects, who had been working in direct marketing and outsourcing for Apple in China, allegedly charged between 10 yuan ($1.50) and 180 yuan ($26.50) for pieces of the illegally extracted data.

According to commentators, the sale of personal information was common in China, which, on 1 June implemented a controversial new cybersecurity law to protect the country's networks and private user information.

It is estimated that overall the employees reportedly raked in more than 50 million yuan, about $7.36 million, before authorities swung into action.

The number of individuals who were affected was not known. It was also not known as to how many of the victims lived outside of China. It was also not certain what would happen with the internal database in question in view of the arrests.

Commentators say, it may be difficult to completely prevent unscrupulous employees from taking advantage of their positions, but it might be possible to reduce the potential for damage.