iCloud switch in China could impact international users too

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iCloud iPhone
Apple is migrating Chinese iCloud accounts to a locally-owned server in February.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

There appears to be a bit of confusion regarding who is and isn’t going to be affected by Apple’s migration of China-based iCloud accounts to a server operated by a Chinese company next month.

According to a new report, the migration of iCloud accounts is also affecting a number of accounts that were opened in the U.S., are paid for with U.S. dollars, and are connected with U.S.-based App Store accounts.

In a report from TechCrunch, the tech website said it had spoken with a number of users who fit into the above category, but who are nonetheless having their iCloud data moved over to a server handled by Apple’s China-based local partner Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) from February 28.

Apple’s terms and conditions state that:

“The operation of iCloud services associated with Apple IDs that have China in their country or region setting will be subject to this transition. You will be notified of this transition via email and notifications on your devices. You don’t need to take any further action and can keep using iCloud in China.

After February 28, 2018, you will need to agree to the terms and conditions of iCloud operated by GCBD to keep using iCloud in China.”

However, TechCrunch claims that it has “found instances of iCloud accounts registered overseas that were part of the migration.” Essentially, it appears that, if your Apple ID was created originally in China, or if you’ve spent some time in China and therefore changed your country or region during the stay, there’s a chance your data could be migrated — even if you’re not in China right now.

While it’s not guaranteed, the article states that users may be able to get around the transition by signing out of all devices, then switching their phone and iCloud settings to the U.S. The site claims these accounts “will (seemingly) not be part of the migration.”

Problems for the future

Apple sent out a message to customers in China this week, revealing terms and conditions of the changeover. This includes the fact that both Apple and GCBD will have access to all customer data stored on iCloud.

The agreement to set up a new data center in China, in partnership with GCBD, was announced last July. This was one month after China’s new tougher cybersecurity laws were introduced. Apple was the first foreign company to announce changes to its data storage in China in order to conform to the new law.

While this isn’t the first time Apple has made accommodations to work with the Chinese government, despite accusations of surveillance, it is certainly going to be troubling to some users — particularly because of the dilemmas it throws up going forward.

As the founder of censorship monitoring site Great Fire told TechCrunch, “The biggest questions, not answered in the T&Cs are: What will Apple do when the Chinese authorities request a backdoor to access data that is encrypted? Will they continue to adhere to local laws and regulations and submit to the request? Or are they leaving this decision squarely in the hands of GCBD, their local partner?”