When Apple moved iCloud data for Chinese customers over to Apple partner Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry earlier this year, a lot of privacy advocates were worried about the implications.
They might have even more cause for concern now, as Apple’s iCloud data in the country — including users’ emails and text messages — is now being stored by a division of the state-owned China Telecom. Apple confirmed the change late on Tuesday.
As TechCrunch, which confirmed the change with Apple notes:
“Apple’s transition of the data from its own U.S.-based servers to local servers on Chinese soil has raised significant concern among observers who worry that the change will grant the Chinese government easier access to sensitive information. Before a switch announced earlier this year, all encryption keys for Chinese users were stored in the U.S. which meant authorities needed to go through the U.S. legal system to request access to information. Now the situation is based on Chinese courts and a gatekeeper that’s owned by the government.”
Apple first migrated its user data to Chinese servers back in February, a month after new tougher cybersecurity laws were introduced, stating that cloud services in China must be operated by local companies. “Our choice was to offer iCloud under the new laws or discontinue offering the service,” an Apple spokesman told CNN at the time.
While Tim Cook has been obliquely critical of some Chinese technology policies, Apple has largely gone along with demands made by the government in order to continue growing Apple’s market share in China. Tim Cook has said that China represents Apple’s future largest market.
It’s definitely a tough predicament for Apple to be in. However, for a company which prides itself on its pro-privacy situation, moves like this will definitely strike some onlookers as being hypocritical.