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Apple Moves Chinese iCloud Data to Government-Owned Host

Tim Cook. Photo: Du Yang/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

In a move that should concern privacy advocates, Apple announced earlier this week when it would migrate China-based iCloud accounts to a hosting company owned by the Chinese government. The company plans to hand hosting operations over to Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data by the end of February.

The move, Apple says, will “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.” That makes sense on its face, but it also means substantial privacy compromises to host data, even encrypted data, on servers controlled by a government with an enormous cybersurveillance apparatus. By default, iOS-device backups are stored in iCloud, making backups automatic and easy, but also keeping a bundle of your device’s data on hardware that you don’t own. It’s why, for instance, governments can request access to a web-hosted email account by going through a service provider like Google, rather than the account’s supposed owner.

A new wrinkle appearing this morning, TechCrunch reports, is that some customers who are not China-based appear to have been swept up in the migration. One Apple user posted the migration notice on Twitter last night.

He is located in China, but his account is registered to a U.S. address and is paid for with U.S. currency. Apple said it is migrating their accounts based on location, regardless of the account’s settings.

TechCrunch says there is a convoluted way of opting out, however. It goes like this:

That requires the user switching their iCloud account back to China, then signing out of all devices. They then switch their phone and iCloud settings to the U.S. and then, upon signing back into iCloud, their account will (seemingly) not be part of the migration.

Of course, you probably don’t have to worry about this because you’re probably not a Chinese Apple customer. But it is a demonstration of how much control Apple is willing to give the government in order to maintain its position in a vital market.

Apple Moves Chinese iCloud Data to Government-Owned Host