Why Apple Is Storing Chinese Users' Data in China

NEWS ANALYSIS: Some countries demand that local user data be stored locally. Apple reportedly is storing Chinese user data in China, and that's a big deal.

Apple Cloud Storage

Apple is now beginning to store its Chinese users' data inside mainland China. According to a Reuters report, Apple is now working with China Telecom as a data center provider for Apple iCloud customers in China.

Apple noted that data is encrypted and that China Telecom will not be able to access the data. Apple's move to have a China-based data center for its Chinese users indicates the importance of data sovereignty in the modern world. While data can be stored anywhere and accessed anywhere, certain areas of the world are increasingly demanding that local user data be stored locally.

Data sovereignty is an important issue for China, Craig Carpenter, chief cyber-security strategist at AccessData, told eWEEK. "Encrypted or not, with user data housed onshore, the Chinese government can ensure they have theoretical access to it—and that other governments, most notably the U.S.—do not," Carpenter said. "That is a key benefit here for the Chinese government."

Apple's move also signals to Chinese citizens that the government's ability to monitor any user activity remains intact, he said. In Carpenter's view, while the fact the data is encrypted may give some comfort, he said he doubts many Chinese users think the government couldn't get to the data if they really wanted to.

Looking beyond just data sovereignty, the China data center move is also an indication of the critical importance that Apple places on China.

Vinny Sakore, cloud security manager at ICSA Labs, told eWEEK that Apple's China data center move highlights how the recent cuts in device subsidies are affecting manufacturers like Apple.

"To maintain growth in the world's largest phone market, Apple needs to find ways to compete, and local storage of data may help," Sakore said. "The move is also significant because it's another sign that Apple is needing to adjust its business model to become more cooperative."

AccessData's Carpenter agreed with the sentiment that China's market potential is also strongly influencing Apple's decision. Apple's China data center move also means that the Chinese government's pressure tactics were able to force the world's largest technology company to house Chinese user data onshore, he said, adding that China is clearly a key market for Apple, and they see massive growth potential there that is sorely lacking elsewhere.

"There is no other viable reason why they would make such a major concession to the Chinese government," Carpenter said. "If you are Apple, there are very few markets you have not already penetrated—and none with anywhere near the scale, wealth and growth potential of China."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.