China Power

Apple to Transfer Chinese iCloud Operation to a Chinese State-Owned Company

This is not Apple’s first time cooperating with the Chinese government.

Apple to Transfer Chinese iCloud Operation to a Chinese State-Owned Company

Apple Store in Shanghai, China.

Credit: Flickr/SimonQ錫濛譙

The American tech giant Apple announced this week that it will transfer its iCloud operations in China to its Chinese partner, Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry Co,. Ltd (GCBD) — which is owned by the Guizhou provincial government in southern China — from February 28.

That means that all data — including photos, videos, documents, and other personal information —  uploaded by Apple customers in China to their iCloud accounts will be stored in GCBD’s database from then on. Any iCloud accounts registered outside of China will not be affected.

Apple has already notified customers based in China to examine the new terms and conditions and given those who do not want to use iCloud as operated by GCBD the option to terminate their account.

Apple said that this move will “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.”

It’s worth noting that Guizhou province is one of China’s least developed and poorest regions. Yet Apple still announced last July that it would invest $ 1 billion in Guizhou so as to establish the new database there.

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According to China’s state news agency, Xinhua, the Guizhou provincial government is placing a big bet on the development of the big data industry. The local government has set up a leading group for big data and appointed the provincial governor as the group leader. An executive of GCBD told Xinhua that “we are very proud and happy to be a partner of Apple, and look forward to the operation of the iCloud project.”

Besides the goal to comply with Chinese law, Apple apparently aimed to ingratiate itself with the Chinese authorities by supporting Guizhou province in developing its big data industry.   

However, Apple’s decision has caused deep concerns among its customers in China about their data security, although Apple claimed that it has “strong data privacy and security protections in place and no backdoors will be created into any of our systems.”

As The Diplomat reported earlier,  this is not Apple’s first time cooperating with the Chinese government.

In July 2017, Apple removed at least 60 Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers from its China app store after a request from the Chinese government.

A VPN is a third-party service that routes web traffic through servers in another country or location. For netizens living in mainland China, VPNs are the only way to bypass the Great Firewall (GFW) and get access to the international internet.

Both moves — the VPN removal and the new iCloud agreement — brought about a large wave of protest against Apple, both in China and in the United States.