iCloud data for Chinese accounts moved to servers belonging to state-owned China Telecom

A second change to the way iCloud data is stored for Chinese iCloud accounts has raised further concerns about the ease with which the government could access sensitive information.

Apple has confirmed a report that data has now been moved to servers owned by China Telecom, a state-owned company …

The move was announced in a WeChat post. It was presented to users as a way of providing faster service throughout the country.

China Telecom Tianyi Cloud [is] to provide cloud storage services for iCloud. Both parties officially signed the Infrastructure Agreement at the end of June . As the world’s largest fixed network operator, FDD 4G network operator and the largest data center and cloud service provider in China, China Telecom will provide high-quality network and data center services.

Originally, iCloud data was stored on Apple-controlled servers, with the Cupertino company holding the encryption keys. Apple announced a year ago that this would change to comply with new laws in China, and that data for Chinese iCloud accounts would be moved to a server run by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), a company owned by the provincial government.

That move happened in February of this year, with Apple said to have handed over the encryption keys to GCBD, meaning any data access requests by the Chinese government would be made to a company which was under the control of the local government.

The switch to China Mobile servers gives the government even more direct access, as the telco is owned by the national government.

TechCrunch reports that Apple confirmed the move.

Apple said at the time of the original transfer to GCBD that it had tried to argue against the move, but the law required it to comply.

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.

The move was widely criticized by human rights activists, including Amnesty International, which said that it gave the government ‘unfettered access’ to customer data. CNET reports that Chinese Weibo users are expressing further concern about this latest development, illustrating this with posts saying that the speed increase would be to government access to personal data, and to censorship.

Apple’s user agreement specifying GCBD as the data holder is still online. It’s likely that Chinese users will be presented with a new agreement that offers only the options of agreeing to the move or closing their iCloud account.

Photo: South China Morning Post

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