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Apple moves to store iCloud keys in China, raising human rights fears (reuters.com)
227 points by dsr12 on Feb 24, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 106 comments

To Apple's credit there are still significant parts of their platform that remain end-to-end encrypted even in China -- meaning that Apple or any other cloud operator can't read because they don't have the keys, notably:[1]

- iMessage

- Keychain

- Siri data

And more like health, home & payments.

While it's unfortunate that Apple couldn't compel China to run their government requests for data through the U.S. court system, in my view it is pretty amazing that they are "getting away" with keeping the most sensitive data end-to-end encrypted.

I mean China shut down WhatsApp last year and iMessage is of a similar level of security.[2] Then again nobody really uses iMessage in China. They do use keychain.

[1] https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202303

[2] https://www.apple.com/business/docs/iOS_Security_Guide.pdf

To Apple's non-credit, it's still tying iMessage backups to iCloud backups despite years of criticism over this. That means everyone who uses iCloud backups (enabled by default on iPhones) don't actually benefit from iMessage's "end-to-end encryption" (which isn't that safe against sophisticated hackers or oppressive authorities to begin with).

I'd say people may as well forget about Apple's "privacy stance". It's nothing but smokescreen at this point (yes, even in the U.S.).

> iMessage's "end-to-end encryption" (which isn't that safe against sophisticated hackers or oppressive authorities to begin with)

Could you support this claim please?

Re: iCloud backups you're correct. So far. They're about to release iMessages-in-iCloud though, which might obviate the need to include them in iCloud backups.

iMessage uses short RSA 1280-bit keys which could be cracked by a well funded attacker.


1280-bit keys are still mostly sufficient for now, this isn’t a website where every party is relying on the key of the server being heavily resistant to protects millions of users - every device has a unique key.

Still, you are correct that a determined adversary, potentially one capable of purchasing a quantum computer with enough quibits could factor the device key. It would be nice to see Apple move to a large enough ECC key which would improve security against quantum computing attacks in particular.

I don’t think there any quantum computers yet? The last I heard there was one example of factoring 15 and I think it assumed the factors?

Did something change?

True ones are still off in the near future, ones with enough quibits for Shor’s algorithm are far enough away for now as well - which is why I generally feel safe with the current level of cryptography Apple uses with iMessage.

I won’t underestimate the rate at which they are developed though, it takes 2x the key size as the number of quibits to run Shor’s algorithm - ~2600 is a lot smaller than 4096, and even then who knows how much time we have until that happens.

So don't use iCloud backups. You're never required to. You can trivially back up through iTunes, even automatically via Wi-Fi assuming you have them on the same network regularly.

Anyone concerned about privacy, the first thing they should be ensuring is they are NOT using iCloud backup.

You're correct, though its Apple's MO to supply security in an intuitive manner. IF you tout all these parts of your platform as secure and have one insecure piece that interfaces with it then it isnt a secure platform. The onus should be on Apple to secure iCloud. To their credit, I think they know that and will be. Those who are knowledgeable and care about security will continue to stay ahead of those who aren't, but Apple is making the division smaller.

"So don't use iCloud backups. You're never required to. You can trivially back up through iTunes"

Is that how iDevices work ? You do data backup with your mp3 player ?

Is there really no Finder equivalent on an iphone ?

Genuinely curious ...

Yup. iTunes has been a central hub ever since the iPod. Once they had the syncing work there, it made a certain amount of sense to use it for all iDevices and interaction with Apple's media, as it was available on both Windows and macOS. It's been a painful and unhappy evolution, in my experience (and those of many others from what I've read), however.

First, it's relevant to understand the history of what made Apple the behemoth they are today and no matter what random outlier opinions about iTunes you see, it's absolutely iTunes + iPod and what that brought to the general public for managing media and having a great portable media experience 15 years ago.

So yeah iTunes is still a core concern when it comes to managing iOS devices of certain types. When iPhone came out the primary selling points included it being an iPod, were you there? I was. There is no way in hell they were going to let go of the signature usability boon that people relied on and made them rich.

So yeah, iPhone was managed by iTunes and for a long time it was the only way to manage media, contacts, etc. on it or do that sort of thing. iPad was included in this, as well.

Over time, alternative options for managing your device data and such have been implemented. Today you can use iOS devices without ever once connecting to iTunes if you want. Sure. On the device there is a file browser though it's semi sandboxed as you can imagine. You can backup to the cloud if you want hence this discussion. It's all independent. If you want.

However, iTunes still provides some very useful abilities. Besides offering a vastly improved UI for managing your media, it offers things like full image restores, deep encrypted backups (requiring no internet access to restore) and recovery features. You can place data directly into individual app sandboxes, or copy videos/music/etc. directly to device.

Despite what another commenter mentioned, I very much doubt these features will be removed. Maybe they will move out of iTunes. A long time ago there used to be a tool called iSync that was dedicated to device sync/interactions on Mac OS X and I could see that kind of approach being revived. It's very nice to have an OS provided, reliable way to recover a bricked phone, or recover backups without blowing an entire weekend of downloading/installing not to mention data usage restrictions many people still endure.

Anyway, TL;DR: you can use iTunes but you don't have to because history.

Given that Apple recently removed the ability to buy apps from iTunes, I think the writings's on the wall for the ability to locally backup iOS devices. Which is a huge shame.

My guess is they're waiting for more complete coverage in terms of iCloud functionality and maybe security. But Apple has been known to pull the plug on "pro" functionality like this and/or remove functionality before the replacement was quite ready yet.

For many years it has been possible to backup iOS devices using the native protocols, thanks to libimobiledevice.


On macOS (I also use it on Linux, haven't tried on Windows):

    brew install libimobiledevice
    ## to disable iCloud backups
    idevicebackup2 cloud off
    ## if you want encrypted backups (native encryption)
    idevicebackup2 encryption on -i
    ## backup to a folder
    idevicebackup2 backup backup-folder
    ## restore from a backup
    idevicebackup2 restore backup-folder

This uses the same format as iTunes, which stores them in ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

There are more utilities included:

    idevice_id              idevicedebugserverproxy     idevicenotificationproxy
    idevicebackup           idevicediagnostics          idevicepair
    idevicebackup2          ideviceenterrecovery        ideviceprovision
    idevicecrashreport      ideviceimagemounter         idevicescreenshot
    idevicedate             ideviceinfo                 idevicesyslog
    idevicedebug            idevicename                 iproxy
You can also mount your iPhone's filesystem using ifuse (the only one in a separate package):

    brew cask install osxfuse
    brew install ifuse
    ## mount your iPhone
    ifuse mount-point
    ## unmount, or eject using Finder
    umount mount-point
Parts of these protocols have been around since the first iPhones, I find it highly unlikely Apple will remove these anytime soon.

What was the use case for buying apps on iTunes as opposed to any one of your iOS devices?

Legacy maybe? You could only buy from iTunes in the beginning.

My understanding is that Apple recently enabled end to end encryption for iOS backups using your password?

Just keychain backups. However they could extend that mechanism to other data. I’m excited to see what they do with iMessage-on-iCloud which is very close to release.

Aren’t all the passwords backedup in iCloud as well as all your phone backups?

It seems that China would just need to do a bit of work but they still can get every piece of data on the device.

Passwords are backed up but they are end to end encrypted. Check out Cloud Key Vault, it’s a pretty cool solution for keychain (password) backups designed for adversarial clouds.

Unfortunately does not apply to regular iCloud backups or most other data. But a major step forward.


end to end encrypted doesn’t mean much when your decryption key is the Apple account/iCloud password.

AFAIK I never had to define an encryption password for an iCloud backup only for local backups with iTunes which means that the device only needs my Apple account credentials to retrieve and decrypt a backup from iCloud as such China and for that matter any entity which gains lawful or unlawful access to your Apple account gets to have the keys to the kingdom.

You didn’t watch the video did you. That’s not how it works. The key is your device passcode.

The key for the backups can’t be the device passcode because the device passcode protects the key stored in the Secure Enclave on the device that is the local encryption key also 6 digits isn’t nearly enough entropy for any key derivation algorithm.

I can download a backup from iCloud and unpack it in any device or use a 3rd party application to view to content of the backup and the only thing I need is the Apple account password used for iCloud.

"We have a feature called iCloud Keychain Backup, and here's what we do. We have a new credential, the iCloud Security Code, and most often this is the device passcode."

- Apple security architect, in the aforelinked video, which you still didn't watch

An article by Matt Green that discussed (questioned?) some of this was on the front page earlier: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16449326

Siri runs server side, I can’t see how that could work without the keys to its data

I don't think that Chinese government cares for the Siri Data as much. Not many Chinese people ask "Hey Siri what is Democracy?". Keys to the cloud is the keys to the kingdom, unless someone turns off iCloud the moment they activate their phones.

Speaking as a Chinese citizen, I'd say most people already use local apps/services for almost everything, so having Apple moving servers to China won't practically have any impact on "privacy" or "human rights concerns", at least to vast majority of the population. I really appreciate that Apple is finally moving their servers to China as downloading apps and updates from App Store has been painfully slow.

iPhone has lost quite some market shares to local brands like Huawei, Xiaomi in the past few years, and more people are feeling local brands knows what people needs better. Having a faster service might actually help bringing back some market share.

> I'd say most people already use local apps/services for almost everything, so having Apple moving servers to China won't practically have any impact on "privacy" or "human rights concerns"

Does this mean anything? You also breathe polluted air like "most people", do you want new fresh air then?

The reason of "__INSERT ACTION HERE__ won't practically have any impact on 'privacy' or 'human rights concerns'" is because "most people" unaware the importance of their privacy, NOT because their privacy is not important.

So, their is a choice to make: To make people understand the importance of their privacy; OR, continue selling this unawareness (to make people ignorant). Which way you go?

Whichever way, it doesn't matter that much. At least where Apple wants to put their server makes no difference.

It's not that we are "unaware" of anything, we just don't feel the same way about privacy (and many other western values as well). Not that they're bad, we just don't believe they're so important. Sure you think you "know the importance of privacy", but that's rather just an opinion, not a fact.

In fact, another apparent trend in China is that people who have been studying and living in US for some time tends to become more agreeable with Chinese government afterwards.

You'll feel different the first time the "social credit" system ends up denying you a loan because of something you said in a private message.

Or you'd feel real different if you were a Uighur who lived in Xinjiang.

Right now, thanks to a growing economy, no one cares about rocking the boat, or what the government does. That will all change when China experiences its first deep recession, and like the US, the government will have no choice but to stoke dangerous levels of nationalism to deflect anger away from it, while ratcheting up the amount of control it has.

The current credit systems in China works very, very differently from what the western media describes. Major commercial systems like "Zhemaxinyong" are actually way more transparent than US credit system. You get to see a lot of the details about what's impacting your score at all time, and you have lots of control on where do you want to share your score to.

The official "social credit" system that the government wants to build is still at a very early stage right now, and it'll be no where close to what the western media imagined (or rather, hoped)

The fairy tales about Chinese social credit system denying loans because of private messages are malicious wishes of western media or Chinese activists at most

Right, it's all the delusions of the Western media as to how this could go wrong, because we never had any things go wrong with blacklists in the West? In the 1950s we had anti-communist blacklists that didn't work out too well. Today we have the terrorist watch list. It's our experience with government creating blacklists and the inherent injustice from false positives that make us very wary of it. People have accidentally gotten onto the terrorist watch list and had their lives ruined.

In China, you have this combined with a President who seems bent on keeping power forever (removing term limits), a party which aggressively blocks and filters anything critical of the government, the installation of key-loggers, face recognition cams, firewalls, and a huge system of monitoring social media, that should raise alarms when there is talk about a universal social ranking, as it's pretty obvious how easy you could end up with a low ranking from off hand joke about the government on Weibo. (https://international.thenewslens.com/article/65955)

I assume you've been living abroad for a while, so you must know we that aggressively criticize our own governments because we don't trust them to do the right thing, and there is ample lessons from history that proves that out. While the Chinese government wants to credit a social credit system to keep the population "honest", there is no "good governance credit system" to keep the government "honest". In the West, we have independent court systems to try and achieve that, as well as democratic elections. It doesn't always work, and corruption still flourishes, (good lord, the fucking Trump administration) but at least there's some attempted check on government power and corruption.

All I'd say is, a glass heart when China is criticized is probably not the best way to react, but I guess it may be the only way to react, since criticism of the government isn't really permitted publicly internally, the only Chinese widespread public criticism is from the external diaspora. My own feeling is that Xi is taking the country in the wrong direction and there appears to be no internal forces to stop him.

Anyway, here's an example of the hell of disputing these kinds of lists.


"Lawyer Li Xiaolin was also not given advanced notice that he was blacklisted.

In 2014, Li was sued for defamation and lost. A judge ordered Li to make an apology, which he submitted in writing in April 2015. Ten months later, when he was away on a work trip, he was blocked from buying a return flight home to Beijing. That’s when he found out he was blacklisted.

It took him another three weeks before an official told him why.

“The court said my apology was not sincere. I asked officials how they determined what is sincere.” Li said.

Eventually Li wrote a second apology and the court removed him from the blacklist in 2016. Then last year, he tried to get a credit card.

“The bank denied my application. I figured out that the bank might still have my name blacklisted and I was right,” Li said.

The bank updated its records the next day, but by that point, he had spent almost a year to fully clear his name."

I'm not denying China doesn't have problems. It has tons of problems in fact. Aggressive blocking is annoying. But let's take a break and see:

Do you think you have to be super careful if you are in China and not to call Xi "Steamed Bun"?

Do you seriously believe anyone in China would get blocked of loans because a credit system is in place that assigns low score to anyone talking ill of the government?

That's what western media wants you to think. The truth behind these stories are usually a lot more complicated, but it's not in the interest of the media to unravel all the truth.

In fact, tons of people calls Xi "Steamed Bun" in China, it's like his nickname, I also do that myself.

And yes, a government blacklist do exists in China. It's totally reasonable you'll at least be denied of applying for loans if you made your way to that list. I couldn't find the reason why those Xie is on that blacklist (the article certainly downplayed that part, at least), but the article also said "Hu said the central government has not assigned any social credit scores to its citizens yet, but eventually there will be a financial credit score".

Did you see what that mean? At least these cases in the report do not have much to do with credit system because it doesn't exist yet. How things would turned out eventually is a guess, at most.

I've lived in US for quite some time, and saw tons of shit show. Why do American news media split into "Left" and "Right"? If you read reports from both sides, you'll almost see two entirely different world. And yet most Americans do not do so, they chose one side and read only what they want to believe. Is either side lying? Maybe, but not necessarily. News reporters just need to selectively report the truth that can reinforce what they believe. Magnify problems of the other side, and downplay anything that they found hurtful. That's just human nature

> A party which aggressively blocks and filters anything critical of the government, the installation of key-loggers, face recognition cams, firewalls, and a huge system of monitoring social media

I'm sure you're aware of this, but I'd like to point out that U.S. (and many of its allies) has all those things as well, apart from the aggressive filtering.

At least China is up front about it.

False equivalence.

The US has no regulation that requires the installation of spyware or face a fine or jail. China does (https://www.deepdotweb.com/2017/08/12/chinese-government-req...).

The US has no laws requiring firewalls to block or censor content from foreign countries. The US doesn't block VPNs and there is no law against them.

Yes, they try to snoop on communications, but in US domestic citizens and companies can resist with encryption and in the courts, and in general, a warrant is required for legal access. Having the NSA snoop on your conversations or use 0-days to hack isn't the same as being told to put security backdoors by the government and go to jail if you don't.

And "aggressive filtering" is your euphemism for the Great Firewall? I'd call sending to to jail for selling a VPN a little more than "aggressive filtering"

I've lived in China and to call it "aggressive filtering" is a pretty nice way of putting it.

Americans really shouldn't be commenting on the credit system of other countries...

Why not? Because our's is very bad? Why does that preclude one from commenting on any credit system around the world? It's standard practice on HackerNews to comment on surveillance and tracking systems in general and point out the dangers of them. There are lots of European commentators discussing US government policy, and vice versa. All criticism is fair, where you are born or what your government has done in the past doesn't invalidate one's opinion. There's too much nationalism sensitivity in these kinds of discussions when someone takes offense to someone else criticizing their country.

There are some aspects of China's proposal which are good in regards to giving scores to businesses in an effort to regulate them, similar to independent reputation systems in the West, but it is the promises of "holistic rating of character" they've made and the comments about introduction of big data deep learning techniques that have people concerned. Even if intentions were completely benign, you could end up with something very bad.

The idea of using surveillance capitalism in a multipolar system is one thing, especially if there is a very transparent dispute system, but using it at the state level should scare everyone. People complain about being ruined by small tweaks to Google's ranking algorithm, but having a single ranking instituted by a government monopoly would be inescapable.

Different cultures value things differently. In many societies east of Europe, things typically considered private in the west (work, salary, family, political affiliation/opinions etc., friends circle etc.) would be commonly accepted social knowledge.

So what you consider "Important" may not be as important to them when you consider they may already expect society knows these things.

you can't do IT business in China without sleeping with gov in one bed, so it doesn't really matter what people want, whatever you want company it's not allowed to provide

only reason gov doesn't care about imessage is either because everybody use Wechat or they know already how to read your conversations even there

That's primarily an excuse foreign companies use to explain their failures in China. They want to run their business in exactly the same way the do in their own country, they expect the users to behave in the same way as their existing users. Then when they fail, they blame everything on the government. The Chinese government certainly have different values and believes from western society, so do the 1 billion Chinese people.

The truth is, Chinese government treats foreign companies much better than local ones. Foreign companies are much easier to get loans and tons of other resources. But it certainly defines rules that all players in the market needs to obey. Do Chinese people buy Apple products because Cook has been sleeping with Chinese gov? Did Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba all succeed because they followed instructions of Chinese gov?

Here in Russia we have a (somewhat niche) meme "we've only won" (keeping the good look to the bad play, typically used ironically).

Each time our wise government protects us from something unnecessary or dangerous (like ban on European dairy products or LinkedIn storing data abroad) we're only winning from this, as almost no one needed that anyway, and that now our own positions are even stronger, etc.

I can't help myself but find very close resemblance here. ;)

Just saying.

As of December 2017, iOS had around 19.7% of China's mobile web browsing market. That is unexpectedly huge, is there a large enough middle class to support that many iPhones?


Sales in China have been expanding, though it goes up and down with new iPhone releases:


Samsung has absolutely gotten killed in China recently, but I don't think Apple has.

It’s not killed for sure, but it used to have bigger market share

Not according to the forbes article, but that is indicating sales in quarter rather than overall marketshare (Apple sold more phones than Xiaomi in Q4 17, see https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/25/chinas-smartphone-market-i...).

Apple is not doing poorly in China by any economic measure, but ya they don't sell many $200 Xiaomi/Huawei phones. I'm sure that Apple wins consistently based on phone sales revenue, even if they trail in total units sold.

Apple got some good number with iPhoneX launch it seems, after several years' of decline in market share. They're no where close to getting killed though.

The fact it's moving servers to China is most likely going to have positive effect on their sales, not negative.

The X was basically designed for China, you can’t show off with a design that is 3 generations old already! Apple didn’t bother updating their ID for 3 years (6, 6s, 7), which is why sales were so tepid in China for the last two years. The X fixed that.

The effect of iCloud moving will be mostly neutral. As long as WeChat continues to work on iPhone, whatever iCloud does won’t be very significant. I doubt most iPhone users in china even know what iCloud is.

it depends on your definition of market share - whether it is quarterly shipment or % of phones on carrier networks.

apple devices are a few times more expensive than say Xiaomi, they thus stay in people's pocket for much longer. for shipment data, Apple's figure is not that fancy any more, they count for only 8% of the shipment in Q2 2017.


It does fall and rise on any quarter given apple’s predictable release schedule. Still, 20% sustained marketshare for China at the price they are selling compared to local competitors is quite the feat.

Apple shipped 18% of phones worldwide, but when it comes to the Chinese market, it counts only 8%. You need a lots of explanations if you refuse to acknowledge the obvious here.


Before start to waste your time, the 8% shipment in China figure was >14% just 24 months ago.


To give you some extra details - I live in downtown Shanghai, as of writing, several months after IPhone X's release, I have not even seen the IPhone X yet as not any single one of my families, friends or colleagues has switched to that.

That is why i wasn't very optimistic in iPhone X China figures. I dont see them around in China much as well. And the craze was no where near my expectation, and nothing compared to iPhone 6. But the sales figure was very different when announced.

You are not the only one with this observation as well. Most of my friends and colleagues in different area of China had the same observation as well. I wonder why.

So where did they go? 8% is a lot.

I think parent just doesn't hang around Xintiandi very much.

Similar finding here. Lost quite some market shares is what we "felt" was happening around out circles, although the stats usually tells a slightly different story. Especially when you are suppose to be using Chinese Brand if you are in business and have any relationship to political circles.

And may be given a lot of these phones are likely being used to do App Store Reviews, ranks, Gaming levels, etc. May be that is why we see them less around us but sales figure tells a different story.

Totally agree! I would have already switched if I hadn't bought so many iOS apps.

Reminder: iCloud is entirely optional, even if Apple device provisoning UX uses dark patterns to hide the difference between App Store account (mandatory) and iCloud account (optional).

For E2E messaging, you can use Wire which works even on iPads or iPod touch that does not have a phone number. Create an email-only account from a desktop PC at http://app.wire.com, then use that to sign into mobile device.

Stuff like this is why I backup to an encrypted USB drive.

Pretty interesting to compare to what Google did in China.

Google noticed the China government trying to hack in to Gmail accounts and said enough is enough.

Versus Apple handed the keys to the China government.

Because if they would continue to store them in US then all would be well. They are perfectly safe in the US...

If you are a Chinese activist, then yes, of course you are better off with the keys anywhere outside China.

what about American activists? why nobody worries about them?

We do worry about American activists, but the legal system is different here and Americans can easily use services hosted outside the US. Chinese users cannot easily use services hosted outside China.

> Americans can easily use services hosted outside the US. Chinese users cannot easily use services hosted outside China.

Services hosted outside the US by companies with presence in the US fall under Patriot Act which means US can spy on them any time without warrant, but ianal. Even if the company has no presence in the US, there are only a handful of countries that would not bend over to hand data to US. That's why US doesn't need to block access to anything while China has to.

Ok but you're still ignoring the basic fact that activists and even criminals in liberal democracies have legal and human rights.

In China, you have no guarantees and no recourse. Torture, forced confession and retaliation against your family are all on the table.

That's why no one worries about US activists the same way they do about Chinese ones.

ye, Assange is enjoying his human rights as we speak

"no one worries about US activists the same way they do about Chinese ones"? You have only heard one sided stories from western media so far.

Why do Assange and Snowden needs to hide then? Of course US don't need to do anything sketchy, they make them illegal and lawfully send them to jail

> Ok but you're still ignoring the basic fact that activists and even criminals in liberal democracies have legal and human rights.

Such as moving those criminals and activists to Guantánamo Bay? Oh, Obama trolled to shut it down almost a decade ago after acknowledging its wide spread human right violations, why it is still in operation in the same shape and form? You are free to troll whatever you like, that is not going to change the fact that Guantánamo Bay is still being used for violating basic human rights.

liberal democracies? think about Guantánamo Bay.

Please stop spread your highly misleading non-sense. Let's don't even go down the paths of those weekly mass shootings in the US, when the constitution is basically denying their rights to live and the far right elements are calling for teachers to be armed on campus, what you can expect?

Also, US inmate population is far larger than China's one, even though the former population is much smaller. For this, American citizens can either believe their government is abusing human rights, or that Americans in general are more inclined to commit crimes. Which one is it?

I do worry about American activists, which is why I recommend that everyone use end-to-end encryption, especially if the data is stored within the US.

we do, thats why we store in them in Canada.

Apple did fight off the FBI over this issue not long ago. I'm not saying the war is over though... that was just one battle.

Yes, for one shooting event. And then it crawled back to the FBI to help it unlock the iPhone at the next shooting.


I’m not sure that article says what you’re suggesting it says? Apple offered to "expedite [its] response to any legal process."

It’s unclear whether they’re committing to unlocking the device. Judging by the prior case, I’m not confident that they are?

Well, I do live in China and I don't see anyone feeling any fear about this... Seriously, you can easily turn off keychain if you don't trust a cloud service to store all your passwords. And if i decide to use such a service, I'd certainly trust a local company much more than Apple or anything of US origin.

Have you ever been to Xinjiang? A Uighur friend of mine is a tour guide there and he has to communicate with foreigners via email. He specifically uses foreign hosted mail and continually deletes his email and local cache and is paranoid about it.

You won't care about privacy until you've been on the receiving end of government interference in your life.

To be clear, keychain is end to end encrypted including the Cloud Key Vault that backs it up to potentially adversarial clouds. Not true for other iCloud data but your passwords are probably safe.

Yeah, other iCloud services are just widely unpopular in China, they're basically irrelevant.

Need to store photos? Baidu disk and tons of other services provide much larger space with no cost, and much more affordable paid version. Wallet? almost everyone in China uses Wechat pay or Alipay now. Even App Store supports Alipay for purchasing apps. Maybe they can steal my contacts? If so, they would have all my Wechat and QQ contacts already, maybe even all the messages. While I do like more privacy, but it's basically at the bottom of my list of concerns.

People mention "Chinese activists", well, almost all of them don't even live in China. Rest assured their lives are not impacted as well

There are many foreigners who live in China that are concerned about this. However, it is easy to get out of it just by setting your app store home to a country other than China.

I’m disappointed that all this hoopla was completely avoidable: all Apple would have to do is end-to-end encrypt everything, and this wouldn’t even be an issue: they’d be no keys to hand over. Instead, by keeping the keys, they’ve basically opened themselves up to requests like these that they really have no choice but to abide by.

If they did not, perhaps China would ban iCloud (similar to WhatsApp and google’s services).

iMessage is end-to-end encrypted and not banned, IIRC.

My fear of future is way above this.

Apple and other mobile OS all incorporated so called Mobile Device Management features into their cores. With one or a few payloads pushed to your device, it could do fairly lot from install an app remotely to wipe it out (like find-my-iPhone).

I wonder what would be the case if China gov't asks. It could just be a small step forward in the whole Salami tactics.


Of course, for now, it requires enrollment of the device to a legitimate MDM server, but what will happen tomorrow?


The alternative is to have the iCloud keys stores in the US. Do you trust the US government? China definitely doesn’t.

So don't store data in iCloud? It's perfectly possible to perform your own encryption and hold the private key yourself.

Sure, many users in China can use other services, but it seems to be a no win situation for most people. Unless you’re technically sophisticated, you’re unlikely to pursue alternatives which provide a greater degree of security and require a bit of technical know how.

At best you can say that Chinese users will likely be no worse off using iCloud than they would using any other China-based service. Unfortunately that is no consolation for anyone who might have sensitive data.

> At best you can say that Chinese users will likely be no worse off using iCloud

You can say better than that. iCloud is more secure than your average service (especially in China). It end to end encrypts the most sensitive data (keychain) for example, and iMessage has managed to stay alive so far.

Yes, perhaps that's true but it doesn't mean that Apple is completely in the clear on this issue. A much more detailed account of iCloud security can be found on this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16449326

Nobody said they were clear of anything, just more secure than your average China-based service. (I have the top comment on that thread btw.)

I should also add that locked notes in iOS are end-to-end encrypted. Those are pretty easy to use for folks who are not "technically sophisticated"; you just unlock them with your face/fingerprint.

When you add that to secure keychain storage, iMessage (broadest end-to-end encrypted messaging system permitted in China), secure Siri data (imagine what a government could monitor if they owned the Alexa cloud)... Apple offers a significantly more secure service that is still easy to use by the general public.

> Unless you’re technically sophisticated, you’re unlikely to pursue alternatives which provide a greater degree of security and require a bit of technical know how.

I'm completely pro-privacy, but I need to ask: why would ordinary people's ordinary data need better security? Even if iCloud might be decrypted by the government. If it's data like bills, government issued photos of ID cards, family photos, it will most likely won't matter at all and the security is good enough, just like anything available.

Once you do have a reason to encrypt something, learning GPG, LUKS, etc. is not that hard or that technical.

Almost everyone does something that can be construed as being illegal. By allowing unfettered access to private information, this makes it much easier for laws to be selectively enforced in ways that benefit the government.

> Almost everyone does something that can be construed as being illegal. By allowing unfettered access to private information, this makes it much easier for laws to be selectively enforced in ways that benefit the government.

Exactly. It could be something as simple as guilt by association. Even though you might not have done anything illegal yourself, you may have the contact information of someone who is on a watchlist or has been convicted of a crime. For example, China is looking into developing a social credit rating system, any association an individual has to persons who the government consider less reputable could have real impacts on their credit rating.

LUKS, maybe. Although it lacks deniability.

GPG, however, has proven to be virtually impossible to properly use and almost no one does, even in the hacker crowd.

As usual with all privacy issues, most people aren't aware of what's happening behind the scenes, and companies usually don't have any incentive to be transparent about it.

It would be nice if Apple gave all of its Chinese iPhone users a nice big prompt that told them their iCloud/iMessage backups can be accessed by the Chinese government from that point forward, and maybe even tell them how they can disable it in the settings if they want to. It's the least Apple could do.

Well my iCloud account in China did receive a long email from Apple before this happens, saying that they will move their iCloud servers to China, and what can be done if you do not want your data to be moved. I think they've done enough.

But they won't...

Many U.S. businesses never survived local competition in China. Kudos for Apple to stay in business and remain a significant share of the Chinese cell phone market.

This is why I always disable such things. Other vendors are mostly worse.

Apple is great at lecturing us about how bad the Trump administration is. But when the Chinese say jump, Apple asks how high...

>When Apple Inc begins hosting Chinese users’ iCloud accounts in a new Chinese data center

1. get vpn

2. create US icloud account

3. ???

4. profit?

VPNs are becoming increasingly hard to acquire in China.

it's not problem to acquire but to find running one reliably

it's not so easy without US credit/debit card

You don't need a credit card to create a US Apple account, and you don't need a VPN either. I don't live in China, I live in Europe, but I have a US account because everything is better about Apple US accounts.

You can use it for free (you get 5GB of iCloud space, IIRC), but to be able to pay for services I buy US iTunes gift cards from ebay (mark-up about 1%). I can pay all Apple services with this, including iCloud storage and apps and music and movies.

It's a hassle, but it's totally worth it for me.

I would just stock up on USA iTune gift cards when I lacked a US credit card. Its not hard really, the real problem are Chinese apps that you might need for your day to day life (e.g. the dedicated Didi dache app if you didn't want to go native and use WeChat). Even then, Apple seems to let you change your app store easily, you can even have apps from both the US and Chinese app stores on your phone (or at least, that was true a couple of years ago).

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