The storage of user data in China represents a departure from the
policies of some technology companies, notably Google Inc, which has
long refused to build data centers in China due to censorship and
Apple said the move was part of an effort to improve the speed and
reliability of its iCloud service, which lets users store pictures,
e-mail and other data. Positioning data centers as close to
customers as possible means faster service.
The data will be kept on servers provided by China Telecom Corp Ltd
<0728.HK>, the country's third-largest wireless carrier, Apple said
in a statement on Friday.
"Apple takes user security and privacy very seriously," it said. "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."
A source with knowledge of the situation said the encryption keys
for Apple's data on China Telecom servers would be stored offshore
and not made available to China Telecom.
Apple has said it has devised encryption systems for services such
as iMessage that even Apple itself cannot unlock. But some experts
expressed scepticism that Apple would be able to withhold user data
in the event of a government request.
"If they're making out that the data is protected and secure that's
a little disingenuous because if they want to operate a business
here, that'd have to comply with demands from the authorities," said
Jeremy Goldkorn, director of Danwei.com, a research firm focused on
Chinese media, internet and consumers.
"On the other hand if they don't store Chinese user data on a
Chinese server they're basically risking a crackdown from the
Goldkorn added that data stored in the United States is subject to
similar U.S. regulations where the government can use court orders
to demand private data.
A spokesman for China Telecom declined to comment.
With its rising middle class, China has become an increasingly
important market for Apple. Sales of the iPhone rose almost 50
percent in China in the three months ended June and salvaged an
otherwise lackluster quarter for the Cupertino company.
Other companies have opted not to situate servers in China, where
they would have to comply with local laws.
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Google publicly abandoned China in 2010 and moved its services,
including its search engine, to Hong Kong-based servers after
refusing to comply with Chinese government censorship. Microsoft
Corp also does not have servers for its email service in China.
Yahoo Inc came under criticism in 2005 after it handed to Chinese
authorities emails that led to the imprisonment of Shi Tao, a
journalist who obtained and leaked an internal censorship order the
government had sent Chinese media.
"China doesn't want any digital service offered to Chinese people to
be hosted offshore," said Goldkorn. "I suppose it was inevitable
that Apple had to comply if they were using foreign servers for
Chinese user data."
In July, Apple's iPhone was branded a danger to China's national
security by state media, because of the smartphone's ability to
track and time-stamp user locations. Apple denied tracking user
Apple has frequently come under fire from Chinese state media, which
accused the company of providing user data to U.S. intelligence
agencies and have called for 'severe punishment'.
The U.S. company has strongly denied working with any government
agencies to create back doors into its products or servers. "We have
also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will," Apple
has previously stated.
News of the China Telecom deal emerged Thursday after a local
government website in the southeastern province of Fujian announced
that iCloud had migrated to China Telecom's servers after 15 months
of rigorous testing and review. The website article is no longer
available on the site.
(Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Ryan Woo and
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