In light of Apple’s intentions to outsource Chinese iCloud operations to a firm with ties to the local government at the end of the month, French nonprofit Reporters Without Borders — otherwise known as Reporters Sans Frontières or RSF — is telling journalists to take security precautions.
The nonprofit said in a post on Monday that members of the media who have Apple iCloud accounts in China should either move or close their accounts before the deadline, or face “control of their data [passing] to the Chinese state.” iCloud operations in China will be taken over by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), which is supervised by a board run by government-owned businesses.
The transfer won’t make any visible difference to Chinese customers on the front-facing end, and Apple tells customers that data remains secure and private. On its site, under “Government Information Requests,” the company states, “Apple has never created a backdoor or master key to any of our products or services. We have also never allowed any government direct access to Apple servers.”
However, this is the second time RSF has recently expressed concern over Apple’s compliance with the Chinese government. In August, the organization commented on news that VPNs would be withdrawn from Apple’s Chinese App Store since the government considers them illegal. In general, free press watchdogs like RSF and human rights advocacy organizations like Amnesty International do not have high expectations for the Chinese government. RSF has expressed a dark outlook on Apple’s partnership with GCBD, noting how Apple’s lawyers have added a clause in the Chinese terms that both Apple and GCBD may access all user data.
“Apple promises that it will never give governments a backdoor to content, but there is no way of being sure about this,” says Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “Knowing the Chinese government’s determination and the extent of the means of pressure at its disposal, it will end up getting its way sooner or later, if it hasn’t already.”