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There has been a growing global trend regarding the security and sovereignty of digital data – building facilities that store online data closer to customers. Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook are among the big American technology companies building data centers in Germany, the Netherlands, France and other countries. While some of the expansion is for technical reasons — the online services operate faster when they are near customers — the companies are also reacting to growing pressure from European governments and customers to maintain some control over their data.
Now, Apple announced that it would open its first data center in China. According to the nytimes.com, the move is a response to a strict new cybersecurity law in China that requires companies to store users’ data in the country. The new data center, in Guizhou, a province in southwest China, is part of a $1 billion investment in the province and will be operated in partnership with a local data management company, Apple said.
As is the case with many laws, the digital security regulations approved last month in China were vaguely worded, leaving many foreign companies uncertain about which parts would be enforced and how.
Apple announced that the new center would keep “strong data privacy and security protections in place.” The company added that no back doors, meaning ways for the government or other organizations to get around Apple’s encryption protecting the data, would be created in its systems.
“The addition of this data center will allow us to improve the speed and reliability of our products and services while also complying with newly passed regulations,” Apple said.
China’s rules also call for security reviews and for users of messaging apps to register their real identities. The regulations are part of a Chinese industrial policy adopted to build local capabilities. For example, a government plan called Made in China 2025 names several industries, including robotics and electric cars, in which China hopes its companies will become leaders.
Apple already stores some of the data of China’s residents in local servers, but the new agreement goes one step further with a Chinese partner responsible for running its data center, managing the sales of its services in the country and handling legal requests for data from the government.
When the new data center opens, Apple’s iCloud will operate from an Apple plant run by Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry, a data management company. Apple said, however, that it would retain the encryption keys for the data stored at its center and that Guizhou-Cloud Big Data would not have access, meaning it would not be able to see what photos or documents were stored in iCloud without Apple’s permission. This is the first time that Apple has formed a partnership with a local operator for its cloud services.