Watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is recommending that journalists operating out of China either close or migrate their iCloud accounts by the end of the month, as Apple is on the verge of transferring local control to a company tied to the Chinese government.
Apple will formally hand the reins of its Chinese iCloud servers over to Guizhou-Cloud Big Data on Feb. 28, RSF said, quoted by the Hong Kong Free Press. That will put the personal data of both journalists and sources within reach of the Chinese government, which is known to suppress political dissent and other media content it considers a threat.
The local iCloud user agreement states that both Apple and GCBD can access user data, RSF noted.
"Apple promises that it will never give governments a backdoor to content, but there is no way of being sure about this," wrote Cedric Alviani, the head of RSF for East Asia. "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."
Apple has sometimes been criticized for its willingness to bend or break its standards in order to do business in China — this includes remarks by Republican and Democrat politicians. In regions like the U.S. and Europe the company is normally a staunch advocate of free speech, privacy, and other human rights, but in China it complies with censorship requests, for instance by pulling controversial apps from the App Store.
A second Chinese data center is said to be in the works for Ulanqab City, though it will only open in 2020.