Residents of China using iCloud might soon cautiously suspect that Big Brother is watching their accounts, as Apple announced Wednesday that on February 28 it will begin migrating them to their new China-based data center that's managed by a state-owned data management company. This is contrary to normal company policy, which is to manage data operations itself.
The move is to comply with a law enacted last June which requires that data belonging to Chinese citizens and organizations be stored within the country in data centers operated by Chinese companies. Apple announced soon afterwards that it would be partnering with data management company Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), a company "supervised by the Board of Supervisors of Guizhou State-owned enterprises," according to GCBD's website.
Shortly after plans for the new data center were announced, the Guizhou province government announced that it was creating a committee chaired by Communist Party members to oversee the facility.
The new data center was built by Apple as part of a $1 billion investment in Guizhou province in Southern China and will be the company's first data center located in the country. Like all other Apple data centers, it will be powered using renewable resources.
With the move, the company will be one of the first US firms to comply with the law, as Google, Facebook, and Twitter remain blocked in the country. Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM had already entered into partnerships with Chinese companies for their China-based cloud services before the law was passed.
Noting that GCBD is government-owned, some iCloud users have expressed concerns that the partnership will give Chinese authorities greater ability to monitor citizens using Apple devices. The Chinese government has stated that the purpose of the law is to combat terrorism, not to open the door to spying on its citizens.
Apple's response has been to promise that no back doors would be created or deployed in the new data center and has given users the option to delete their data. When announcing the upcoming migration, the company said the move "will allow us 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."
Although the migration to the China located facility is only supposed to affect Chinese accounts, TechCrunch has reported that some US accounts are being automatically included, including the account of a TechCrunch editor, Wang Boyuan.
In response to a query from the website, Apple answered, "The operation of iCloud services associated with Apple IDs that have China in their country or region setting will be subject to this transition. You will be notified of this transition via email and notifications on your devices. You don’t need to take any further action and can keep using iCloud in China."
According to TechCrunch, however, it has found accounts being migrated that were established in the US, purchased in US dollars, and connected to US-based App Store accounts. It has published a possible workaround it's discovered on its website.
Last July, Apple was accused by some virtual private network providers of giving-in to pressure from Chinese cyber regulators after it removed VPN services from its Chinese app store.