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Apple slings fanbois' data at Chinese servers in China Telecom deal

Mandarins won't get encryption keys, Cook & Co promises ... scout's honor

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

In an effort to woo buyers in China, Apple has inked a deal to store Chinese customer data in Chinese servers for the first time.

Plenty of technology firms are leery about storing sensitive information in China (although given the NSA's reach, US servers aren't exactly private) but Apple has hired China Telecom to use the telco's servers to store iCloud data for Chinese customers.

"Apple takes user security and privacy very seriously," Cupertino told Reuters. "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."

That sounds pretty definite, but if the Chinese government decides it wants data that's stored on Apple's servers then it's possible the firm will hand it over. Yahoo! attracted considerable ire when it handed over data on Chinese customers who then spent years in Middle Kingdom prisons for criticizing the state, as did Microsoft for censoring blogs – and Apple's users might run into similar problems.

"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 research firm Danwei.

"On the other hand if they don't store Chinese user data on a Chinese server they're basically risking a crackdown from the authorities."

Apple is trying to boost its position in China, with some success, but it's still well behind the local competition when it comes to handset sales. Xiaomi rules the roost in the China smartphone sector at the moment, and all of the firms in the top ten are Chinese except Samsung and Apple.

While iPhones have been selling reasonably well in China, they are expensive compared to many homegrown handsets. Storing iCloud data locally may speed things up for customers and make iPhones more attractive to buyers, provided they can afford the handsets.

Chinese consumers are used to their government having access to their data, so Apple's move won’t cause much concern in the Middle Kingdom. But the fallout in the West if Apple does hand over user data to the authorities could be severe. ®

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