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Microsoft asks employees in China to ditch Android phones, switch to iPhones

Microsoft in China has announced a significant security change for its staff, requiring all employees to switch to iPhones by September 2024. This proactive move, amidst conflicting reports about China’s stance on iPhones, demonstrates Microsoft’s clear direction and commitment to security, regardless of any potential ban.

A memo from Microsoft, accessed by Bloomberg, outlines the mandatory switch for staff currently using Android devices, including those from Chinese brands Huawei and Xiaomi. To comply with the new policy, these employees will be provided with an iPhone 15.

To facilitate the transition, Microsoft is setting up collection points for the new iPhones across its facilities in China. The policy also extends to staff in Hong Kong.

One reason for this change is the unavailability of the Google Play Store in mainland China, which is available in Hong Kong. Instead, Android users in China have had to rely on app platforms by Huawei or Xiaomi. Microsoft has now blocked access to these platforms.

The switch to iPhones ensures all staff can use essential Microsoft apps like the Microsoft Authenticator password manager and the Identity Pass app, both available through Apple’s iOS App Store in China.

While Microsoft has not disclosed the number of employees it has in China, it has been operating in the country since 1992. It boasts its most comprehensive subsidiary and largest R&D center outside the United States.

This research center alone employs over 6,000 engineers and scientists. In May 2024, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft had asked around 800 local employees to consider relocating to other countries, including the US.

Neither Microsoft nor Apple have publicly commented on this mandatory switch. Additionally, in May 2024, Microsoft introduced support for passkeys, allowing apps to use the iPhone’s Face ID for biometric authentication, enhancing security without relying on traditional passwords.

This move underscores Microsoft’s commitment to bolstering security for its operations in China while navigating the complexities of the local tech landscape. It also indicates that despite their willingness and eagerness to do business in China, tech companies, especially those with roots in the US, are woefully aware of the cybersecurity risks they face in China.

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