Beginning next month, Apple will hand over all iCloud data in China to a company operated by the government, giving them access to data such as photographs, documents, and messages.
Apple has notified its large customer base in China that as of Feb. 28, all iCloud data will be stored on servers owned by Chinese company Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBG), which is operated by the Guizhou provincial government.
While it is sharing the data to GCBG, Apple will also retain access to the information.
Chinese customers signing in to iCloud are now greeted with a message detailing the changes to its policies, pointing out that customers can decide to deactivate their iCloud accounts on Feb. 28 if they wish.
Last year Apple announced it would be investing $1 billion to build the data center in Guizhou to meet new cybersecurity requirements introduced by the Chinese government, which require all customer data to be held inside the country and by a company licensed by the Chinese government.
Apple said the move was aimed at helping “improve the speed and reliability of our iCloud services products while also complying with newly passed regulations that cloud services be operated by Chinese companies.”
However, it also addressed a worry among users that handing over customer data to a Chinese company would in effect be handing the information to the Chinese government.
Apple said it has “strong data privacy and security protections in place and no backdoors will be created into any of our systems.”
Last year Apple was criticized for banning apps from its App Store that allowed users to circumvent the government’s huge surveillance and censorship apparatus known as the Great Firewall.
At a conference in China just last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company’s decisions, saying it had to abide by Chinese law it if wanted to remain in the marketplace.
China is currently Apple’s third-largest market behind the U.S. and Europe.