Apple has announced that it will be handing over control of data from the iCloud accounts of its Chinese customers to the operators of a local data centre.
Chinese data laws mean that businesses have to store data that they collect in China within the country.
Apple was forced to choose between complying with local laws, or not operating in the country. Given the one billion plus population of China, this represents a large opportunity for Apple, and it has chosen to opt for the money.
Chinese Apple users were notified by the company, with a message saying that it had entered into a partnership with Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBD).
The message states that this will allow Apple to ‘continue improving the speed and reliability of iCloud and to comply with Chinese regulations.’
GCBD, the firm which will operate the data centre, is owned by the Guizhou local government. Guizhou is the province in which Apple built its £738 million data centre last year. The data transfer will be complete by the end of February. Customers who do not wish to share their data have the option to terminate their accounts before that date.
There are a raft of concerns that come with such a move. Many will question the extent to which Apple customers’ data will be protected in the hands of a data centre operated by the Chinese government, which is known for its authoritarian and sometimes extreme intrusion on its citizens’ personal data.
Apple has insisted that despite the transfer it will maintain its current privacy standards, and no backdoors will be created. As well as this, it has said that it will carry out a series of customer communications to help retain transparency.
This is not the first time Apple has faced criticism for bowing to Chinese government pressure. Last year it suffered bad press following its decision to remove VPNs from its App Store in China, as these allow users to dodge internet restrictions put in place by the government.
Other major players have had problems in China, most prominently Google, which has been banned from use in the country, and at one point was redirecting results to Hong Kong.