Apple’s iCloud Partner in China Will Store User Data on Servers of State-Run Telecom
Apple’s Chinese iCloud partner, Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), has cut a deal with the state-run China Telecom to move user data to the latter’s servers while new GCBD data centers are under construction, according to a public-facing WeChat post from China Telecom. Though the iCloud data is end-to-end encrypted, the encryption keys are also stored in China, raising the possibility the Chinese government could gain access to it. Yet Apple has said only its employees have direct access to the keys, and that there no backdoors for government agencies.
The decision reasonably has some critics of the company’s business strategy in the country concerned. Apple has largely met the demands of the Chinese government in order to sell its products overseas and maintain its business relationships with local suppliers. That said, GCBD is supervised by a board of government-run businesses, and it had clear ties to the state before, during, and after its initial deal with Apple. So many of the same concerns critics had with the GCBD deal remain and not much is really changing here. Although it is understandable that a company like China Telecom would heighten concerns that the Chinese government may try to gain access to iCloud data like iMessage texts and emails.
Apple originally announced its move to migrate iCloud user data to local servers run by Chinese companies back in January. Apple users in China can delete their accounts if they so choose or opt out by selecting a different country as the host location for their cloud data. But it’s not clear how easy or safe that is as a retroactive strategy. In other words, Apple users in China may have to create new accounts and choose to have the data hosted on servers in another country if they’re concerned about maintaining absolute security of their personal information.