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Apple moves iCloud encryption keys for Chinese users to China

Apple moves iCloud encryption keys for Chinese users to China

Last month, Apple announced that it would hand over management of its Chinese iCloud data to a local, state-owned firm in China called Cloud Big Data Industrial Development Co (GCBD) at the end of February in order to comply with new laws. While Apple has always hosted iCloud keys in the United States - thus making it necessary to involve the USA justice system in any requests for user data - the company said it must comply with China's new laws requiring the data to be stored locally if it wants to continue operating in the country.

While this does not pertain to U.S. users of Apple iCloud products, it does specifically change the way Apple does business in China.

It's the first time Apple has hosted those keys outside the US, and while Apple says those keys are in a secure location and remain under Apple's control, it's a slippery slope.

Nevertheless, this is still a big change as iCloud encryption keys used to be stored in Apple data centres in the United States, where data laws are quite a bit different. The law - coming amid a legal battle between Microsoft and USA prosecutors who want the company to turn over emails stored on servers in Ireland in connection with a drug-trafficking case - would apply to the personal data of anyone under investigation in Europe, not just European Union residents.

The move was required by recent Chinese legislation which mandates that cloud services available to Chinese citizens are run by Chinese companies operating locally, Apple said, according to Reuters.

In another possible dent to Apple's privacy guarantees, the European Union is working on new laws that would force tech companies to turn over a customer's personal data even if that data is stored outside the EU, Reuters reports. Apple noted that its values don't change even if it is "subjected to each country's laws".

The move will make it easier for the Chinese government to gain access to iCloud accounts.

Apple said it will only respond to valid legal requests in China, but China's domestic legal process is very different than that in the USA, lacking anything quite like an American "warrant" reviewed by an independent court, Chinese legal experts said.

The Chinese government can now ask access iCloud data much more easily.

While iMessage communications are encrypted on the sender's phone and decrypted on the recipient's, Apple uploads a backup of your phone data to iCloud if you activate iCloud during the iPhone on-boarding process, TechCrunch said.

Despite Cook's sunny outlook, USA lawmakers have criticized Apple for bending to Chinese demands. Human rights activists are concerned because it could lead to arrests of democracy advocates.

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