BEIJING – The Chinese authorities will gain access to iCloud, a data storage service operated by Apple Inc. which Wednesday transferred its operation center for Chinese users to a local company, posing a serious threat to users’ data privacy as authorities can now freely monitor their information, a human rights organization said.
As announced by Apple Inc’s Chinese partner, the Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry (GCBD) would start operating iCloud for users in China from Wednesday onward.
This change led to all the data stored on iCloud, including photos, videos, and documents as well as content backups – being subject to the new terms and conditions of the data storage service now operated by GCBD.
“When the authorities come to GCBD requesting information about an iCloud user for the purposes of a criminal investigation, the company has a legal obligation to provide it and few, if any, viable legal avenues to challenge or refuse the request.,” Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement.
Although Apple Inc. is known by the international community as an advocate of information privacy and online security, especially after the company refused to help the FBI to unlock their products as ordered by a US court in 2016, the situation in China is different.
The US tech giant faced harsh criticism for blocking its Chinese users’ access to some telecommunication applications such as Skype and for removing VPN applications from the Apple Store in China, which is the only technology allowing people residing in China to avoid the government’s internet censorship.
“The changes being made to iCloud are the latest indication that China’s repressive legal environment is making it difficult for Apple to uphold its commitments to user privacy and security,” added the human rights organization.
The Chinese government, AI warned, was given virtually unlimited access to user data stored inside the country “without adequate protection for users’ rights to privacy, freedom of expression or other basic human rights.”
“Chinese police enjoy sweeping discretion and use broad and ambiguously constructed laws and regulations to silence dissent, restrict or censor information and harass and prosecute human rights defenders and others in the name of “national security” and other purported criminal offences,” the organization explained.
As a result of the change, Chinese users could be arrested and imprisoned “for merely expressing, communicating or accessing information and ideas that the authorities do not like.”
The new regulations approved by the government of China in 2017 require corporations to store all user data within China, triggering great concern over data privacy in the country.
Apple Inc., which labeled privacy as a fundamental right on its website, informed clients that the move would help the company “comply with Chinese regulations.”
The firm also advised its customers residing in mainland China who no longer wanted to use the iCloud operated by GCBD to deactivate their account.
In China, internet censorship imposed by the government continues to tighten as the authorities block access to many websites and applications including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.