Amnesty International calls out Apple for handling of Chinese iCloud data

All Apple users are equal, but some are less equal than others

22 Mar 2018
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We all know that iconic Orwell-inspired Nineteen Eighty-Four Apple advert, the one where Apple declares that, with the introduction of the Macintosh, “you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

Except now, Amnesty International is accusing the company of “helping to create” a dystopian future itself, as Apple hands over the operation of its iCloud servers in China to a local Chinese company – something that will have huge consequences for millions of Chinese iCloud users.

Back in 2017, a new Chinese law passed which said that cloud servers need to be operated by local Chinese companies, including the likes of Apple’s. Apple subsequently handed the iCloud master keys to local company, Guizhou-Cloud Big Data last month.

What does this mean exactly? Essentially, if the Chinese government wishes to do so, it will be able to gain access to any photos, messages, documents, contacts and any other user data of Chinese citizens stored on Apple’s iCloud servers.

Amnesty International contacted Apple on 1 February regarding the new law and how the company would deal with it, but received no response.

“Amnesty International is launching a new social media campaign targeting Apple over its betrayal of millions of Chinese iCloud users by recklessly making their personal data vulnerable to the arbitrary scrutiny of the Chinese government,” the organisation said in a statement.

“Apple’s influential ‘1984’ ad challenged a dystopian future, but in 2018 the company is now helping to create one,” said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director at Amnesty International. “Tim Cook preaches the importance of privacy, but for Apple’s Chinese customers, these commitments are meaningless. It is pure doublethink.”

China already has a fairly blasé outlook to human rights, and most recently introduced its invasive face-recognising smart sunglasses. More chilling, however, is the government’s ‘social credit score’ scheme, which will be fully rolled out by 2020. It will be based heavily around what you do online, with points docked for saying anything that ends up being censored, or you watch porn, for example. Apple’s decision to willingly hand over all that data really goes hand in hand with China’s incoming social credit score system.

The organisation’s new campaign also comes in the wake of another high-profile social media campaign trying to raise awareness about the toxic abuse women face on Twitter. It certainly grabbed the attention of Twitter itself, so we’ll just have to wait and see if Apple decides to respond to Amnesty International’s newest campaign.

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