Despite rebuilding their brand to focus on the protection of user privacy, Apple recently confirmed that their new “Private Relay” feature, which is designed to hide users’ browsing data and protect their data privacy, will not be available in China.
“Apple Inc on Monday said a new ‘private relay’ feature designed to obscure a user’s web browsing behavior from internet service providers and advertisers will not be available in China for regulatory reasons,” reported Reuters. “The feature was one of a number of privacy protections Apple announced at its annual software developer conference on Monday, the latest in a years-long effort by the company to cut down on the tracking of its users by advertisers and other third parties.”
Private Relay is a VPN service which will direct “internet traffic through two relays in order to mask who’s browsing and where that data is coming from.” According to the Big Tech giant, those with access to the feature will have their browsing data hidden from any other party, including Apple. Chinese users, however, will not have this layer of privacy available to them.
As The Verge noted, Private Relay won’t be available in additional countries, including Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and the Philippines.
Apple claims that they remain committed to both “human rights” and “privacy” in their “Our Commitment to Human Rights” declaration, in which they “feel a deep sense of responsibility to make technology for people that respects their human rights, empowers them with useful tools and information, and enhances their overall quality of life.”
“We do that with our — setting the industry standard for minimizing personal data collection. We build privacy protections into everything we make — from products like iPhone, to services like Apple Pay, to our comprehensive review process for every app on the App Store,” the document adds. “Hand in hand with the privacy of our users is our commitment to freedom of information and expression. Our products help our customers communicate, learn, express their creativity, and exercise their ingenuity. We believe in the critical importance of an open society in which information flows freely, and we’re convinced the best way we can continue to promote openness is to remain engaged, even where we may disagree with a country’s laws.”
As multiple reports have indicated, however, Apple’s “commitment” to privacy doesn’t apply when it comes to China. Not only is the Private Relay feature unavailable for Chinese users, Apple also plans to store user data at centers in Guiyang, China — and another in the Inner Mongolia region — after largely ceding “control to the Chinese government.” This involves Chinese state management of the computers, the abandonment of encryption technology not permitted by the Chinese regime, and “digital keys that unlock information on those computers” being held in the very “data centers they’re meant to secure.”
And, as Reuters noted, “In 2018, Apple moved the digital keys used to lock Chinese users’ iCloud data, allowing authorities to work through domestic courts to gain access to the information.”
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