Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

TechCrunch’s Report on Control Over iCloud Data in China

Jon Russell, TechCrunch:

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.

GCBD is a provincially-owned company; Chinese iCloud users have, since earlier this year, had effectively a contract between themselves, Apple, and the Guizhou provincial government. Now, the federal government is taking over. See update below. Because there’s no due process or legal recourse in China that’s comparable to that of most other countries, it seems that the only way for Apple to protest this would be to turn off any of their user data services in the country.

Russell:

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.

Without debating the meaning of irony itself, I don’t think these situations are comparable. Without minimizing how bad this is for Chinese iCloud users, it is solely their data that is affected by this deal, not users from any other country. That is not to say that their data is worth any less or ought to be protected to a reduced degree, should it be legally permitted. The entirely different worry about ZTE’s devices and equipment is that they could perhaps pilfer data from users outside China and give it to the Chinese government.

Update: Russell’s post is based on a misunderstanding. Ben Lovejoy, 9to5Mac:

However, we understand this to be essentially nothing new. Apple has always stored encrypted blocks of data on third-party servers like Amazon Web Services, and in China Tianyi Cloud has long been one of these.

I have updated the headline to this piece to reflect this. My apologies for the mix-up. My criticism of the statement comparing iCloud in China to ZTE still stands, however.