Following the passage of a data regulation law last year, Apple will hand over management of its Chinese customers’ iCloud data to a Chinese state-owned firm today.
In addition to shifting iCloud accounts, Apple will also store the cryptographic keys required to unlock and access the data of those accounts in China. Previously, the keys had been stored in the US, meaning that authorities desiring to access a Chinese iCloud account were required to go through the US legal system.
With a government history of censorship and political suppression, the move will likely put the data of Chinese iCloud users at risk, with dissidents particularly vulnerable. Despite assurances from Apple that it will retain control over the keys and store them securely, there is very little the company can do under Chinese privacy laws to stop authorities from seizing encryption data whenever it chooses.
After the Chinese market netted Apple some $44 billion last year, however, the company has little option but to cooperate. With other big tech businesses, including Microsoft and Amazon, already complying, Apple will be one of many companies that is likely to hand over control of its data to Beijing.
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Alex is a senior analyst in the Current Developments team with a primary focus on the Americas. He also serves as an editor on The Daily Brief.