The data of more than 130 million iCloud users in China will be stored by a division of state-owned China Telecom, raising concerns the Chinese government will have access to the information, which includes emails and text messages.
China Telecom’s Tianyi cloud storage business took over storing iCloud data from Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry, a government-backed data centre developer and operator which Apple originally partnered with when it was required by the government to store its data on domestic servers in 2017, TechCrunch reported.
Previously, when encryption keys for Chinese users were stored in the US, authorities needed to go through the US legal system to request access to data, but now China Telecom is the gatekeeper and requests for access go through China’s courts, TechCrunch reported.
The news site noted Apple users in China can opt out of domestic data storage by selecting another country for their iCloud account.
In July 2017 Apple announced plans to set up its first data centre in China to speed-up services such as iCloud for local users and comply with the country’s new cyber security law requiring global companies to store information locally. The controversial legislation requires strict data surveillance and local storage for internet companies. It came into force on 1 June after Chinese regulators were pushed to delay implementation by overseas business groups, which complained it restricts their activities.
The move to local storage comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. The US government is considering a number of actions to ban the use of equipment from Huawei and other Chinese telecoms companies. Politicians also urged Google to end its relationship with Huawei on the grounds the vendor poses a risk to national security.
Earlier this month a US Department of Commerce (DoC) agency recommended the Federal Communications Commission deny a request by China Mobile for an operating licence in the US due to national security concerns. The largest mobile operator in the world by subscribers applied for the clearance in 2011.
A report by the executive branch DoC agency stated: “China Mobile is vulnerable to exploitation, influence and control by the China government, and China Mobile would likely comply with requests made by the Chinese government.”