How Does Alibaba’s Data Pact Impact Chinese Retention Laws?

By Editor
July 22, 2015

Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba says its Aliyun cloud computing subsidiary has a new data protection pact that supposedly protects user data.

At an event held today in Beijing, Simon Hu, president of Aliyun, announced the pact and promised to abide by this pledge to protect user data and business data privacy for all of its international customers. Hu encouraged the entire Internet industry to exercise self-regulation that is vital in promoting the sustainable development of the data technology economy.

Alibaba issued the text of its Alibaba Cloud Computing (Aliyun) Data Protection Pact, which states, in part: “Customers, such as individual developers, companies, governments, and social institutions, have absolute ownership over any and all data generated on the Alibaba Cloud Computing (Aliyun) platform, including the rights to freely and safely access, share, exchange, transfer or delete their data at any time.”

But the Chinese government mandates that Internet service providers in China maintain records and logs of all server data for at least two months, and sometimes much longer. For cloud computing service providers, the rules are murkier, causing companies to often proactively retain data longer than legally necessary. So Alibaba’s granting of deletion rights to consumers may be cosmetic: to the user the data is removed, but actually all that data may still be saved for government access. Data retention is a big concern for technology companies in China.

To make matters more confusing for cloud computing users, encryption under new drafts of Chinese anti-terrorism laws will continue to be controlled by the Chinese government. Encryption keys will be managed by Chinese government agencies. So ultimately any use of Aliyun or any Chinese cloud computing service will leave data susceptible to snooping.

“We aim to make cloud computing the engine of the data technology economy, and big data a driving force of economic development,” Hu said at the event. “Aliyun will continuously be committed to building a cloud-computing ecosystem to efficiently and securely serve global clients.”

Whether global clients will fully trust Aliyun’s pledge has yet to be seen.

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