Controversial Apple data center in China hit by COVID-19 lockdown

The controversial Apple data center in Guiyang, China, has been hit by the latest citywide COVID-19 lockdown to be imposed by the government.

The data center is currently taking emergency measures, including closed-loop operation, in an attempt to keep the iCloud server online…

The controversial Apple data center

Apple usually operates its own data centers for iCloud data, although it does store some encrypted data on third-party services like Amazon Web Services. This does not pose any additional security or privacy risks, since only Apple holds the encryption key.

However, back in 2017 the Chinese government passed a law requiring Apple to use a state-owned company for iCloud storage in the country.

As the Chinese law requires foreign companies to use locally managed businesses to store data, Apple is partnering with Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry Co Ltd (GCDG) for this particular data center project.

Apple was then reported to have been forced to hand over encryption keys to GCGD, meaning that the company – and therefore the government – ​​would have free access to the personal data of Chinese citizens. Apple issued a “non-denial” stating that it had not created any backdoor to the server, but that would not be needed since the government has the keys to the front door.

In theory, the Chinese government still has to produce a court order for GCBD to hand over personal data, but that is a mere formality in China.

Citywide COVID-19 lockdowns

While the rest of the world has concluded that it is impossible to completely eradicate COVID-19, and we instead have to rely on vaccines and testing programs to minimize the spread and severity of the virus, China has taken a different route.

The Chinese government believes that it can completely free the country from COVID-19. It thus imposes citywide lockdowns when even a handful of cases are found.

Data center closed-loop operations

The lockdown bans the 6 million citizens from traveling to and from work. The only way around this is to use what is known as closed-loop operation, where employees remain on the premises 24/7. A Bloomberg report says that this is happening at the data center.

China’s latest Covid lockdown has virtually paralyzed a city of 6 million that houses much of the country’s electronic information, forcing Apple Inc.’s datacenter operator to take emergency measures to shut out the pandemic.

Apple’s partner in Guiyang, which operates the server center that houses all online data generated and stored by hundreds of millions of Chinese iPhone users, described what amounted to a “closed loop” system under which employees are barred from leaving the premises. Many haven’t seen their families for a week, Guizhou Cloud Big Data, Apple’s government-backed partner, said in a WeChat notice.

There’s no word yet on whether there is any impact on iCloud services in the country.

Photo: Lars Kienle/Unsplash

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Naveen Kumar

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