Apple Will Now Store User Data in China

Recently we’ve seen two major changes made by Apple in China with the company now storing its user data on Chinese severs. It also banned the use of two harmful chemicals handled by factory workers during the assembly of iPads and iPhones.

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Photo: Oleksiy Mark / Shutterstock

Apple said in a statement that it has stored data on Chinese servers for the first time, and is under an agreement with China Telecom. This move was taken by Apple to improve the reliability and speed of its iCloud services that allow users to store their data online. The company said that since everything will be encrypted, this move will not compromise the safety of user data.

“Apple takes user security and privacy very seriously. We have added China Telecom to our list of data center providers to increase bandwidth and improve performance for our customers in mainland china. All data stored with our providers is encrypted. China Telecom does not have access to the content.”

Earlier, we saw Apple eliminate the use of two harmful chemicals – benzene and n-hexane – from its product assembly. An internal audit held in 2011 found that n-hexane had injured 137 factory workers. The chemical was used to clean the touchscreen panels of the iPhone. Benzene was commonly used for coating of components, and has been proved responsible for reproductive disorders.

With Apple making a data center in China, the company has again opened a topic for discussion. Such a move is unusual for American tech companies, including Google that has always avoided setting up a data center in China due to the censorship and privacy issues there.

In 2010, Google publicly shunned China and moved its search engine and other services to Hong Kong servers after refusing to follow the censorship rules of the Chinese government. Microsoft does not have any email servers in China either.

China has been infamous for its treatment of user data. In July this year, the country was charged with hacking Canadian government and business servers in an attempt to steal data.

It is also notorious for demanding user data that is stored inside its national borders.

The government of China says that this is down to its policies, but critics have argued that it is done just to spy on people.

According to Reuters, the encryption keys for the data on Chinese servers would be kept offshore and would not be given to China Telecom.

Technical experts believe that the physical location of data does not make it secure from prying government authorities. For example, last month, a US based court ordered Microsoft to surrender email account data that was stored in Dublin, Ireland servers. So, although Apple has stored its data in China, it does not make it any more (or less) accessible for snooping.

Big tech companies generally place their servers close to their customers to speed up the data delivery process. However, if some data is stored inside Chinese boundaries, it will be subject to the Chinese law and can land Apple in an awkward situation, to say the least. For example, in 2005, Yahoo gave a customer’s email details to the Chinese government. The person was then sentenced to 10 years in prison.

By keeping the user data in China, Apple could be forced to hand over the details of any customer to the Chinese government. The company has not specified what type of data will be stored in China, but a statement by Apple hints that it would be related to iCloud, meaning that it could be backup data.

Apple said that it has kept user data in China to improve performance and boost user experience.

In July, the Chinese government said that the iPhone was dangerous to its national security because it tracks the user location. However, Apple denied the criticism’s validity. Apart from that, Apple has been accused by Chinese media from time to time of leaking data to US intelligence agencies. The company denied leaking any data or working with the US intelligence agencies.

Apple did not disclose any details of the agreement or the commitments that have to be made by the company under the Chinese law regarding data disposal. The company has expanded its network by launching new devices and upgrading the earlier ones. To keep up with the competition from rival companies, Apple had to make sure that it offers faster connection speeds. iPhone demands have strikingly increased with the launch of a 4G version. The company is also gearing up to launch large screen iPhones that might boost their sales in Asia.