A state-owned telecommunications company in China now stores the iCloud data for Apple’s China-based users. This is really bad news for dissidents and critics of the government.
In February, Apple caused an uproar when it announced it would be moving Chinese users’ iCloud accounts — and their encryption keys — to a China-based server company Guizhou-Cloud Big Data. Human rights advocates warned this move would be dangerous, especially so for Chinese dissidents. Apple’s response was that it simply had no choice but to comply if it wanted to continue providing its iCloud service to Chinese customers.
Fast forward to today: China Telecom, a government owned telco, is taking over the iCloud data from Guizhou-Cloud Big Data. This essentially means that a state-owned firm now has access to all the iCloud data China-based users store, such as photos, notes, emails, and text messages.
Chinese state-run media is heralding the move as a win for consumers, but Chinese citizens have been extremely condemnatory of the decision. On Weibo, China’s Twitter clone, the conversation about the iCloud data has mostly centered around concern over censorship and users’ privacy.
Previously, in order to keep doing business in China, Apple had to store it’s iCloud data for Chinese users on servers within the country. Apple made the move and signed a deal with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data in February in order to comply with Chinese law that made such a decision a requirement. That month, Apple issued a statement:
“China recently enacted laws requiring that cloud services offered to their citizens be operated by Chinese companies and that Chinese customers’ data be stored in the country. While we advocated against iCloud being subject to these laws, we were ultimately unsuccessful. Our choice was to offer iCloud under the new laws or discontinue offering the service. We elected to continue offering iCloud as we felt that discontinuing the service would result in a bad user experience and less data security and privacy for our Chinese customers.”
Furthermore, Apple tried to calm fears by pointing out that while the data is stored with a China-based company, the company still controlled the encryption keys to each account. They reiterated that no special deal was made to provide access to the Chinese government.
Human rights groups remained highly critical of the decision. At the time, Amnesty International said in a statement:
“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 pointed out in their statement on the original iCloud data move that China’s laws give its government “virtually unfettered access” to data stored within the country. If China’s government approaches a service provider looking for a users data to aid in an investigation, there’s very little recourse for the company to refuse handing over the information. Now with the iCloud info in state-owned hands, China’s government will already have the access to users’ data.
So, it may finally be time for concerned Chinese citizens to stop using Apple iCloud.