Apple Surrenders Chinese iCloud Data To State-Owned Telecom's Servers

Apple customers living in China have a new set of privacy concerns to deal with, if they use the iPhone maker's iCloud service. While previously all their iCloud data was stored on servers located in the United States, Apple has agreed to transfer iCloud storage duties in China to a division of China Telecom, a state-owned telecommunications service.

That outfit is called Tianyi, as first revealed in a WeChat post from China Telecom and later confirmed by Apple to TechCrunch. The concern for Apple users in China is that the state-owned agency now has access to a wealth of sensitive information, including text messages and email communications, and of course photos and videos.

This transition opens the door for the Chinese government to snoop the private data of iPhone and iPad users in China who use iCloud. Prior to the switch, which actually happened earlier this year, the encryption keys were stored in the US. If Chinese authorities wanted to access the iCloud data of a particular user in China, they would have to navigate the US legal system. Now, however, Apple has effectively handed the keys to its Chinese vault to an firm with close ties with China's government.

From Apple's perspective, it is only complying with Chinese authorities. However, that excuse is not likely to ease concerns from iCloud users in China. On the bright side, iCloud users in China can sidestep the concern by option out of local data storage and selecting a different country. It's not clear if that means existing data would be moved as well, or just new data.