Apple has agreed to store the iCloud user data of customers in China on government-backed Chinese servers, despite fears that the government may have access to citizen’s private information.
Asia Times reports that Apple has struck a deal with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data, a data center operator backed by the Chinese government, to store the iCloud data of approximately 131 million iPhone users and millions of other iPad and Mac users in China. The new service for Chinese users will begin on February 28, up until recently all iCloud user data has been stored in US-based servers. A new rule enacted by the Chinese government insists that all Chinese user data be stored within the country.
Apple China and the Guizhou provincial government signed a Memorandum of Understanding in July of 2017 which stated that every Chinese-linked Apple product synced to Apple’s iCloud would have its data mirrored and backed up by servers run by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data. While Apple has stated that Chinese based users will receive faster iCloud speeds as a result of the move, basing the servers in China is a big departure from Apple’s usual data storage policies. Apple has not made an official statement on whether or not they will provide a “back door” for the Chinese government, an issue that has been raised by privacy advocates in the area.
Apple has also not stated what will happen to iCloud data currently stored on U.S. servers and whether it will be migrated to Chinese data centers. Guizhou-Cloud Big Data is a government-owned company, meaning all Chinese laws relating to data storage and privacy will now affect iCloud users. The Chinese government’s extremely poor track record of respecting citizen privacy has worried many observers. Foreign investors have previously been banned from operating cloud storage facilities in Beijing for national security and consumer rights reasons, but the country has recently welcomed technical cooperation with foreign investors, resulting in the type of partnership we are now seeing with Apple.
Guizhou-Cloud Big Data, who operate approximately 30,000 servers, will be the first Apple contracted data-center in the country, in a $1 billion investment deal. Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM all entered deals with China-based data centers before the new rules surrounding Chinese user data were put into place.