Se­cu­rity con­cerns

Ap­ple to open data cen­tre in China with gov­ern­ment ties

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY MICHAEL LIEDTKE

Ap­ple will open a data cen­tre in main­land China with ties to the coun­try’s gov­ern­ment, rais­ing con­cerns about the se­cu­rity of iCloud ac­counts that store per­sonal in­for­ma­tion trans­ferred from iPhones, iPads and Mac com­put­ers there.

The data cen­tre an­nounced Wed­nes­day will be lo­cated in the Guizhou prov­ince and run by a com­pany owned by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. Ap­ple is team­ing up with the com­pany, Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data, to com­ply with a new Chi­nese law re­quir­ing data-stor­age providers to keep the in­for­ma­tion of main­land China cus­tomers on com­put­ers lo­cated within the coun­try.

The Guizhou data cen­tre will store pho­tos, video, doc­u­ments and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion up­loaded to iCloud ac­counts by Ap­ple cus­tomers who live in main­land China, even when they’re trav­el­ling out­side the coun­try. Back­ups and other data stored in iCloud ac­counts by cus­tomers out­side China will con­tinue to be stored in data cen­tres in the U.S. and even­tu­ally Den­mark.

Other ma­jor tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Ama­zon, Mi­crosoft, and IBM, have al­ready made sim­i­lar deals to run data cen­tres in main­land China to re­main in the good graces of the coun­try’s Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment.

But Ap­ple’s ac­qui­es­cence is strik­ing be­cause CEO Tim Cook has made pre­serv­ing cus­tomers’ pri­vacy a com­pany cor­ner­stone. The Cu­per­tino, Cal­i­for­nia, com­pany un­der­scored that com­mit­ment last year in a high-pro­file bat­tle with the U.S. gov­ern­ment over a le­gal de­mand to crack open the iPhone of a sus­pected killer in a mass shoot­ing.

Ap­ple has a strong in­cen­tive to toe the line in China be­cause that coun­try al­ready is its third­largest mar­ket be­hind North Amer­ica and Europe, with all signs point­ing to it be­come an even big­ger profit cen­tre. China cur­rently ac­counts for about 20 per cent of Ap­ple’s rev­enue.

Even though it’s work­ing with a gov­ern­ment-owned com­pany, Ap­ple sought to re­as­sure cus­tomers in China that the ar­range­ment won’t com­pro­mise their pri­vacy. “As our cus­tomers know, Ap­ple has strong data pri­vacy and se­cu­rity pro­tec­tions in place and no back­doors will be cre­ated into any of our sys­tems,” the com­pany said in a state­ment.

What’s more, Ap­ple says it will hold to the se­cu­rity keys pro­tect­ing the data that peo­ple rou­tinely back up in iCloud ac­counts.

But ex­perts be­lieve the data cen­tre will make it eas­ier for the gov­ern­ment to re­trieve the in­for­ma­tion through le­gal de­mands or other means.

Ap­ple will find it more chal­leng­ing to re­sist any or­der from a Chi­nese court to give au­thor­i­ties there ac­cess to an iCloud ac­count that they want to sift through, pre­dicted Nate Car­dozo, a se­nior staff at­tor­ney spe­cial­iz­ing in pri­vacy for the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, a dig­i­tal rights group. Cur­rently, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has to fun­nel those de­mands through the U.S. court sys­tem, a more dif­fi­cult process to ne­go­ti­ate.

Car­dozo rec­om­mends that Ap­ple cus­tomers in main­land cus­tomer turn off the iCloud fea­ture on their iPhones and other de­vices to pro­tect their in­for­ma­tion from pry­ing eyes.

Data stored on the de­vices them­selves should re­main se­cure as long as they lock them with pass­words that only the user knows. Even if the gov­ern­ment seizes a de­vice, Ap­ple won’t have the keys to un­lock data. But with iCloud, Ap­ple does have the keys. The ex­cep­tion is pass­words and credit card data synced with iCloud Key­chain.

Ajay Arora, CEO of data se­cu­rity spe­cial­ist Vera, also warns that Ap­ple’s part­ner­ship with a com­pany owned by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment in­creases the chances that au­thor­i­ties could se­cretly pry their way into iCloud ac­counts.

“It’s like Ap­ple is putting the fox in charge of the hen­house,” Arora said.

AP PHOTO/NG HAN GUAN

In this May 13, 2016, file photo, a man uses his mo­bile phone near an Ap­ple store in Bei­jing. This week, Ap­ple an­nounced it will open a data cen­ter in main­land China with ties to the coun­try’s gov­ern­ment, rais­ing con­cerns about the se­cu­rity of iCloud ac­counts that store per­sonal in­for­ma­tion trans­ferred from iPhones, iPads and Mac com­put­ers there.

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