Treading lightly, Apple acknowledged that it has started to store the personal data of some Chinese users on servers in China. Reuters initially reported that Apple’s success in China led to the first iCloud data center to be located on mainland China. The center was built by Apple and a state-owned telecommunications company, China Telecom, the country's third-largest wireless carrier.
Apple told Reuters in a statement that China Telecom was added to its list of data center providers in order to improve its iCloud service, which lets users store and access photos and other personal files from multiple devices. Apple said storing the data closer to the iCloud users gives them quicker and more reliable access to it.
In a statement posted on the Web site of the Fuzhou city government Web site, China Telecom confirmed that Apple had started storing iCloud data on China Telecom’s platform one week ago.
China Telecom’s involvement in the project has cause some to wonder about the security of data stored in the iCloud, and whether the data could be compromised or censored. Apple said it has implemented security measures to avoid data mining or other intrusive steps.
Heading off concerns over privacy, Apple said Friday in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that all data stored is encrypted, meaning China Telecom does not have access to its content.
"Apple takes user security and privacy very seriously," Apple said. "We have added China Telecom to our list of data center providers to increase bandwidth and improve performance for our customers in mainland China."
China has been suspected of hacking foreign governments and corporate servers to gain access to their information. The country also frequently asks to have user data stored within its borders, which critics say gives the government too much access to the personal information of its citizens.
Apple’s encryption and security technology is known in the tech industry for being mostly consistent and reliable. Even so, there is some suspicion that part of the purpose of the China-based iCloud data center may be to quell concerns about the security of Chinese government data that is being sent to the U.S.
The decision to build the data center clashes with the philosophy of some other tech companies. Google, for instance, refuses to store data in China, citing concerns over censorship and privacy. Google feuded with China four years ago over censoring its search results, leading the company to later move its servers to Hong Kong.
The move by Apple comes during a time of shaky relations between China and American tech companies. Bloomberg reported recently had it that a list of Apple products, including the iPad, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, that had been banned for use by government officials because of security concerns. China’s Management Procurement Office disputed that report.