Apple may have ditched encrypted backups, but Google hasn't
A bombshell report from Reuters suggests Apple ditched end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups at the behest of the FBI. Citing several former Apple employees and FBI officials, the publication notes that Apple planned to switch to end-to-end encryption for iCloud — putting it on the same level as iPhones and iPads — but reversed course after consulting with the FBI.
iCloud data is also encrypted by default, but Apple holds a key to decrypt it. So in a scenario where an iCloud user is locked out of their account for whatever reason, Apple has the ability to decrypt the contents of that iCloud library. It is this reasoning that Tim Cook gave in defence of the move last year:
According to Reuters, Apple was considering switching to end-to-end encryption wherein it won't be able to recover data even when served with a court order. However, the company ultimately decided to not do so:
It isn't clear if FBI was able to persuade Apple to not switch, or whether the company decided of its own volition. What is clear though is that Apple has the means to provide law enforcement agencies access to your data should a court require it.
Here's where Google comes in. The search giant quietly enabled end-to-end encryption for Android backups back in 2018, with a Titan security chip housed in Google's datacenter ensuring data integrity. The system ensures that only you have access to your data, and should you lose your client device (your phone), there won't be any way to recover the information as Google doesn't hold a decrypt key. Here's how the system works:
Basically, your phone PIN or passcode acts as a decryption key for the Titan module, and without it you won't be able to access your data. So if you are looking for end-to-end encryption for backups, Google is the way to go.
A key distinction here is that the system only works for application backups and not content stored in your Google Drive. If you want to secure your data in Drive, you should look at Cryptomator or try rclone if you like to tinker.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.