If you’re an Apple customer living in China who didn’t already opt out of having your iCloud data stored locally, here’s a good reason to do so now. That information, the data belonging to China-based iCloud users which includes emails and text messages, is now being stored by a division of China Telecom, the state-owned telco.
The operator’s Tianyi cloud storage business unit has taken the reins for iCloud China, according to a WeChat post from China Telecom. The company agreed to a deal with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), the original partner that Apple signed on with when it first migrated the data earlier this year.
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 in January, 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 itself has said it was compelled to make the move in order to comply with Chinese authorities, and that hardly eases the mind.
It’s ironic that the U.S. government has pursued Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE on account of national security and suspected links to Chinese authorities, and yet one of America’s largest corporates is entrusting user data to a state-owned company in China.
The only plus for Apple users in China is that they can opt out of local data storage by selecting a country other than China for their iCloud account. Because it isn’t clear whether making that change today would see information migrated or deleted from the Chinese server, starting over with a new account is probably the best option at this point.
Article updated to correct that China Telecom has signed a deal with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), not Apple directly.