The title of this article in the LA Times implies that Apple is accommodating Chinese government orders, but not American ones, and that it does so for the sake of money.
This is nonsense.
[Apple] censored apps that wouldn’t pass muster with Chinese authorities
Apple does the same in the U.S., in fact it goes far beyond and censors apps that are legal but which Apple still deems not to allow in their store. The most clear example is pornography. From day one it has been banned from the App Store, despite the fact that pornography is not illegal (in the U.S.) and is by all counts the biggest money-making opportunity on the internet. Apple removes apps from the U.S. App Store which violate U.S. copyright. They famously disallowed any Bitcoin-trading apps, because of U.S. law. In short, Apple “censors” its App Store in the U.S. according to U.S. law, and presumably by Chinese law in China. In other words: it’s fair.
If this as proof that Apple is partial to Chinese demands over American, one would be forced to admit that Walmart too has capitulated to Beijing because they don’t sell firearms in China despite the fact their stores in the U.S. do.
All that said, the issue of what Apple chooses to sell or not sell in their App Store is a completely different issue than whether or not it should be compelled to help governments access encrypted data.
The second supposed evidence that Apple bends the knee to Beijing:
[Apple] moved local user data onto servers operated by the state-owned China Telecom
First of all, this was likely a result of the fact that the NSA was revealed to have been duplicating byte-for-byte all the data passing our borders. European countries passed similar laws and applied similar pressure. Apple complied with them, building multi-billion dollar data centers in Europe. Last year, Bloomberg reported:
Spying threats, in the aftermath of leaks about the U.S. National Security Agency’s data-collection programs, have prompted governments including France and private companies in Europe to adopt stricter data-protection requirements.
Those tighter rules have meant asking providers to host more customer information, such as health records, locally. To tend to this demand, U.S. providers including Salesforce.com Inc. have bulked up their data-center presence in Europe.
Of course, it also makes technical sense to locate data near customers because it gives them faster and therefore better service. Indeed, this is exactly the main reason Apple gave when they announced they’d store data on Chinese soil, according to Reuters:
Apple said the move was part of an effort to improve the speed and reliability of its iCloud service, which lets users store pictures, e-mail and other data. Positioning data centers as close to customers as possible means faster service.
Apple uses third-parties to host data, and in China those third parties are state owned. Far from offering support to the idea that the FBI should be allowed a backdoor into Apple customer data, this underscores the importance of good encryption. Again, from Reuters, here’s what Apple said about the data in the China Telecom Corp datacenter:
“Apple takes user security and privacy very seriously,” it said. “We have added China Telecom to our list of data center providers to increase bandwidth and improve performance for our customers in mainland china. All data stored with our providers is encrypted. China Telecom does not have access to the content.”
So far, there is no evidence that Apple has been more accommodating to the Chinese government than the American government or any other sovereign State, but has in fact publicly stated that they encrypt user data. They explicitly denying China Telecom Corp access.
Tuning back to the LA Times article, we find the third accusation against Apple:
[Apple] submits to security audits by Chinese authorities
If Apple is building truly secure systems, having some knucklehead government inspectors is no big deal. And to the point of the article: do we have any evidence that Apple would deny the same to a U.S. law requiring the same? No.
The LA Times then quotes James Lewis, senior fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies:
“I can’t imagine the Chinese would tolerate end-to-end encryption or a refusal to cooperate with their police, particularly in a terrorism case.”
And yet, the same iPhones that the FBI are presumably unable to hack are also sold in China. Also presumably unable to be hacked by the Chinese government. More to the point, iMessages sent in China, like the U.S. are encrypted and even Apple cannot read them. Mr. Lewis, evidently unknowingly, reveals that Apple has indeed brought the unbelievable to China: secure private communication for the masses.
Finally, this gem of doublethink is shared:
Despite criticism from foreign governments, including the White House, China is introducing security laws that are so vaguely worded some fear it will require technology companies to provide source codes and backdoors for market access
The FBI is demanding arguably worse: They want to compel Apple to create private source code, and sign that code, which would allow the FBI to force a backdoor.
If Apple were to do this for the FBI, how could they possibly deny the same to the Chinese, or Russian governments?
This is why it’s absolutely critical that private industry be allowed to innovate and build the most secure systems they can. This is why they should not be forced to decrypt or weaken the protections they’ve built. Weakening it for one, weakens it for all. Period. This is not a ideological “period” but a technical one. Something is either encrypted and secured or it is not. There are no half-measures. Encryption is math, and no matter what doublethink governments may try to apply, 2 plus 2 is not 5.