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Apple has started keeping the personal data of some Chinese users on servers in mainland China, marking the first time the tech giant is storing user data on Chinese soil.
The move represents a departure from the policies of some technology companies, notably Google, which has long refused to build data centers in China due to censorship and privacy concerns.
The company has said, the move was part of an effort to improve the speed and reliability of its iCloud service, which lets users store pictures, email and other data. The data will be kept on servers provided by China Telecom, the country’s third-largest wireless carrier.
A well-placed source said the encryption keys for Apple’s data on China Telecom servers would be stored offshore and not made available to China Telecom.
Apple says, it has devised encryption systems for services such as iMessage that even Apple itself cannot unlock. Experts, however, expressed scepticism that Apple would be able to withhold user data in the event of a government request.
A spokesman for China Telecom declined to comment.
Due to its burgeoning middle-class, China has become an increasingly important market for Apple. Sales of the iPhone rose almost 50% in China in the three months ended June and salvaged an otherwise lackluster quarter for the Cupertino Company.
Other companies have opted not to situate servers in China, where they would have to comply with local laws.
Google publicly abandoned China in 2010 and moved its services, including its search engine, to Hong Kong-based servers after refusing to comply with Chinese government censorship. Microsoft also does not have servers for its email service in China.
In July, Apple’s iPhone was branded a danger to China’s national security by state media, because of the smartphone’s ability to track and time-stamp user locations.
Apple has frequently come under fire from Chinese state media, which accused the company of providing user data to US intelligence agencies and have called for severe punishment.