Microsoft has told employees in China and Hong Kong they can no longer use devices running Google’s Android operating system for work purposes and must only use supplied Apple iPhones from September.

The move was first reported by Bloomberg, which cited an internal memo that stated Apple devices would be needed to verify employees’ identities when logging in to Microsoft systems using Microsoft Authenticator or Microsoft Identity Pass apps.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the move was due to Google Mobile Services not being available in China.

With Google’s Play store not available in China, Apple’s App Store is the only place where Microsoft’s China employees can download security apps which the company has deemed necessary.

The move highlights the fragmented nature of Android app stores in China, as Chinese companies with Android phones such as Huawei and Xiaomi run their own app platforms.

The internal memo reportedly said Microsoft had chosen to block Android devices from connecting to its infrastructure in China, but employees would be allowed to use Android devices for personal use outside work.

While Microsoft no longer produces its own mobile phones or mobile operating system, it still counts Apple as one of its key rivals.

Security under the spotlight

The measure is reportedly part of Microsoft’s company-wide attempts to evade hackers, who have managed to infiltrate several of the organisation’s systems in recent years.

Microsoft has been under increased scrutiny this year, after Russia-linked hackers accessed senior executive email accounts and sensitive source code.

Microsoft has offices in a number of Chinese cities. Photo: Shutterstock

In April, the US government also blamed Microsoft for “a cascade of errors” which allowed state-backed Chinese hackers to break into email accounts of senior US officials.

Microsoft expanded its Secure Future Initiative in May, with security executive Charlie Bell stating: “We are making security our top priority at Microsoft, above all else—over all other features.”

Microsoft operates a large research and development facility in China and says its Asia-Pacific Research and Development Group includes scientists and engineers in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Suzhou.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Microsoft had asked hundreds of its employees in China working on cloud computing and artificial intelligence to relocate outside the country, amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.