Apple is storing Russian user data in Russia, and some people are worried it could enable government crackdowns

tim cookREUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

  • Apple has started to store user data for Russian citizens and other users in the area on servers based in Russia, in compliance with a local law.
  • It's a similar situation as China, where Apple shares a server facility with a state-owned telecom company.
  • Apple offers several services that require valuable data from its users, including iPhone backups, contacts, notes, and photos.
  • Some experts say that local storage of sensitive user data could increase the chances that government could demand that data to crack-down on people it doesn't like.

Apple stores Russian user data, including name, address, email, and phone number on servers in Russia, according to a Bloomberg report.

Local data storage is required by a 2015 law in the country, and as part of that regulation, Apple made a filing in December that describes what kind of data it's storing.

Apple has a similar arrangement in China, where its iCloud data is stored in facilities owned by telecoms which are themselves partially owned by the Chinese government.

In Russia, Apple's data center is operated by a company called IXcellerate, according to Russian media.

One worry about storing data in countries which may not have strong privacy standards is the risk that governments like Russia or China could use the data being located inside its borders to demand that Apple decrypt it and hand it over to authorities. Apple offers several services that require valuable data from its users, including iPhone backups, contacts, notes, and photos.

That's exactly the scenario Amy MacKinnon wrote about in Foreign Policy last month. "Russian law takes a broad interpretation of personal data and applies it to anything that could be used to identify individuals or their behavior," she reported.

"They have this arsenal of different tools available to them, and they'll choose the best way to crack-down on someone," Tanya Lokot, who is a professor specializing in internet freedom in Russia, told Foreign Policy.

Apple says that it encrypts most sensitive data in its possession and that it complies with local laws in all countries it operates in.

"We have servers located in many different countries in the world," Apple CEO Tim Cook told Vice in October. "They are not easier to get data from being in one country versus the next."
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