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Apple hands Chinese government the keys to the iEmpire

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On one side of the world US Politicians are attempting to ban Chinese vendors on the grounds of national security, while on the other Apple has potentially handed control of its users’ data to the Chinese government.

The new agreement, which was publicised through a WeChat post (thank you Google translate), between Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), the original Apple partner in China, and Tianyi, China Telecom’s cloud storage business unit, will see the latter store both iCloud accounts and their encryption keys. There are ways around the suspect situation, users can elect to have data stored on different servers in other regions, though it is not a simple process.

With tensions on the rise once again between the two countries, this development is likely to be a clunky spanner in the works. Apple will point out it is simply being compliant to regulations by storing data locally, though there have been fears in recent months the set up would grant the Chinese government easier access to data. Handing control of the data over to state-owned telco China Telecom is hardly going to ease any of these worries.

The decision to move Chinese iCloud accounts onto Chinese servers was made back in January, though there was considerable criticism at the time. Apple defended its position, claiming it was the only was it could continue to offer iCloud services in the country, though Human Rights campaigner warned of the dangers to dissidents and critics of the government.

Amnesty International has pointed out on several occasions the suspect nature of the arrangement, primarily concerning local laws. The foundation claims many provisions of Chinese law offer inadequate protection to privacy, freedom of expression and other rights, therefore should GCBD be compelled legally to offer the government access to private data, there would have to be a mechanism in place to ensure the request did not violate the users’ human rights.

At the time, Apple promised there were no back-doors or suspect channels in the GCBD partnership, but this development will see all photos, notes, emails, and texts stored on government-owned servers. It is certainly a worrying change to the status quo. As it stands, access to data will now be decided by Chinese courts, with the encryption keys controlled by the state-owned telco.

Apple might have a public stance which is pro-privacy, but if local partners can be forced to decrypt data without having to consult Apple or US courts, objections from the US firm are as pointless as classical musical enthusiasts in Slough. When the Chinese government hands a request for information on the grounds of a criminal investigation, there is little which can be done to challenge or refuse the request.

The iLeader of course publicly and officially objects to invasion of users’ privacy, that is PR 101 after all, but is it actually doing anything aside from blindly hoping the situation changes at some undefined in the future. Its a position of convenience for the iChief.

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