Apple has formally transferred iCloud storage and operations for its Chinese users to a China-based firm, a move that complies with local regulations but also raises concerns that the data will be easily accessible by the Chinese government.
Data and encryption keys are now stored in China, at a facility managed by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), a firm with close ties to the Chinese government. Placing the data and cryptographic keys in China means that the Chinese government can go through its own legal system to access data, rather than having to make a request through the US legal system, as it did before.
Apple released a statement earlier this year explaining the move, and defending its actions:
“Last year, we announced that Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBD) would become the operator of iCloud in China. As we said at the time, we’re committed to continuously improving the user experience, and our partnership with GCBD will allow us improve the speed and reliability of our iCloud services products while also complying with newly passed regulations that cloud services be operated by Chinese companies. Because of our commitment to transparency, there will be a series of customer communications over the course of the next seven weeks to make sure customers are well informed of the coming changes. Apple has strong data privacy and security protections in place and no backdoors will be created into any of our systems.”
The company says that no data will be transferred until users have accepted the new terms and conditions, and it emphasizes that customers are able to shut down their account and delete all data, rather than have it transferred.