Over the past year, Chinese government officials have been drafting a counterterrorism law intended to open up access to telecommunications and Internet data that passes through the country. Increasingly, this process has involved asking companies that produce this technology to keep their servers within China, and build “backdoors” into their products that would allow for access to user data.
Apple began to store data from Chinese iPhone users within the country last summer, though they had indicated that all data was encrypted and thus inaccessible to ChinaTelecom, a state-owned telecommunications company. However, according to state media organization People’s Daily, Apple agreed to Chinese government “security checks.” It is unclear whether this means that backdoors will be accomodated in Apple products sold in China. Apple CEO Tim Cook has denied that the security concessions amount to this, or ever will.
In an interview with Quartz, Citizen Lab Research Fellow Jason Q. Ng expressed concerns that other high profile firms will follow this trend. “[If] one of the biggest and most prestigious foreign tech brands isn’t able to resist Chinese demands, what hope do others have?” he said.
Ng added, “calculated pragmatism might lead others like Facebook, who have made numerous friendly overtures to Chinese authorities in past months, to cut similar deals for access to the Chinese market.”
Weibo, the Chinese microblogging platform with nearly 130-million registered individuals, is being watched closely for the possibility of a drop in users. “Censorship has already caused a chilling effect,” Ng told Marketplace. Ng said that China’s crackdown on that type of chatter means the site is “not as much fun as when it debuted.”