Today marks the official transfer of Apple’s Chinese iCloud services from a hosting location in the United States to servers owned and operated by state-run Chinese company Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) (via CNN). With the move, all Chinese users’ iCloud accounts will now be hosted on GCBD’s servers, along with the iCloud encryption keys needed to unlock an iCloud account.
Apple made the transfer to comply with the latest laws enacted in China regarding regulations on cloud services, requiring foreign firms to store data within the country. At the time of the original announcement, Apple said, “While we advocated against iCloud being subject to these laws, we were ultimately unsuccessful.”
Still, Apple remains adamant about its users’ privacy:
“Apple has not created nor were we requested to create any backdoors and Apple will continue to retain control over the encryption keys to iCloud data,” the Apple spokesman said.
“As with other countries, we will respond to legal requests for data that we have in our possession for individual users, never bulk data,” he added.
The company decided to obey the new law in China, instead of outright discontinuing iCloud services in the country and causing a “bad user experience and less data security and privacy” for its Chinese customers. Now, starting today, any iCloud accounts on a device with location settings set to China will have their accounts switched to host GCBD, which is owned by the Guizhou provincial government in southern China.
Because of the move, the Chinese government will be able use its own legal system to ask Apple for its users’ iCloud data, whereas before the government had to go through the U.S. legal system. This has been the focus of controversy regarding the move, with human rights and digital security advocates questioning whether Apple will be able to maintain and protect its customers’ privacy under the new Chinese laws.
“The changes being made to iCloud are the latest indication that China’s repressive legal environment is making it difficult for Apple to uphold its commitments to user privacy and security,” Amnesty International warned in a statement Tuesday.
Speaking to CNN, Ronald Deibert, an expert on human rights and global digital security from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, said that Apple customers in China will need to take “extra and possibly inconvenient precautions not to store sensitive data on Apple’s iCloud.” Apple has noted that users can terminate their iCloud account if they don’t want their data stored by GCBD, but a company spokesperson said that “more than 99.9 percent” of iCloud users in China have decided to continue using the service.
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