Apple makes much of their commitment to privacy, but it seems when it comes to China their principles are much more flexible.
A New York Times investigation has revealed that Apple is in the process of setting up an arrangement where all user data in China will be placed under the control of Guizhou-Cloud Big Data, or GCBD, a company owned by the government of Guizhou Province.
Chinese iPhone users are also asked to accept a new iCloud agreement listing GCBD as the service provider and Apple as “an additional party.”
Additionally, the data is being stored on GCBD’s servers with the decryption keys being stored in the same location, under GCBD’s control.
The agreement noted “Apple and GCBD will have access to all data that you store on this service” and can share that data “between each other under applicable law.”
The procedure is a work-around to U.S. law which prohibits American companies from turning over data to Chinese law enforcement, with Chinese authorities directing requests to GCBD instead.
It is therefore important to realise that all the first-party tracking that Apple (e.g. which movies you watch or podcasts you listen to) could easily end up in the hands of authorities and be used against you in the future, particularly if you are a Chinese citizen, but also if the laws change in your locality in the future.
While companies such as Microsoft engages in similar practices, it is notable that the reason Google’s version of Android is not available in China is that they declined to cede control to Chinese authorities.