In late March a handful of the western world’s best-known iPhone hackers were flown business class to Beijing. They were put up in the five-star Park Hyatt and given a tour of the sites; the Great Wall, the Forbidden City. “They kept referring to us as ‘great gods’. I’m guessing it just translates to ‘famous person’, but we couldn’t contain our giggles every time the translators said it,” says Joshua Hill, a 30-year-old from Atlanta who was one of the chosen few.
It was a bizarre trip hosted by an equally bizarre and secretive entity called TaiG (pronounced “tie-gee”), which flew the hackers to China to share techniques and tricks to slice through the defences of Apple’s mobile operating system in front of an eager conference-hall crowd. Why such interest and why such aggrandisement of iOS researchers? In the last two years, jailbreaking an iPhone – the act of removing iOS’ restrictions against installing unauthorized apps, app stores and other features by exploiting Apple security – has become serious business in China. From Alibaba to Baidu, China’s biggest companies are supporting and even funding the practice, unfazed at the prospect of peeving Apple, which has sought to stamp out jailbreaking ever since it became a craze in the late 2000s.
I had no idea jailbreaking iOS was this popular in China.