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Cloudflare’s Data Localisation Suite now helps customers localise metadata about their HTTP traffic.

Data localisation has gotten a lot of attention in recent years because a number of countries see it as a way of controlling or protecting their citizens’ data. Countries such as Australia, China, India, Brazil, and South Korea have or are currently considering regulations that assert legal sovereignty over their citizens’ personal data in some fashion — health care data must be stored locally; public institutions may only contract with local service providers, etc.

In the EU, the recent “Schrems II” decision resulted in additional requirements for companies that transfer personal data outside the EU. And a number of highly regulated industries require that specific types of personal data stay within the EU’s borders.

Cloudflare is committed to helping our customers keep personal data in the EU. Last year, we introduced the Data Localisation Suite, which gives customers control over where their data is inspected and stored.

Today, we’re excited to introduce the Customer Metadata Boundary, which expands the Data Localisation Suite to ensure that a customer’s end user traffic metadata stays in the EU.

Metadata: a primer

“Metadata” can be a scary term, but it’s a simple concept — it just means “data about data.” In other words, it’s a description of activity that happened on our network. Every service on the Internet collects metadata in some form, and it’s vital to user safety and network availability.

At Cloudflare, we collect metadata about the usage of our products for several purposes:

  • Serving analytics via our dashboards and APIs
  • Sharing logs with customers
  • Stopping security threats such as bot or DDoS attacks
  • Improving the performance of our network
  • Maintaining the reliability and resiliency of our network

What does that collection look like in practice at Cloudflare? Our network consists of dozens of services: our Firewall, Cache, DNS Resolver, DDoS protection systems, Workers runtime, and more. Each service emits structured log messages, which contain fields like timestamps, URLs, usage of Cloudflare features, and the identifier of the customer’s account and zone.

These messages do not contain the contents of customer traffic, and so they do not contain things like usernames, passwords, personal information, and other private details of customers’ end users. However, these logs may contain end-user IP addresses, which is considered personal data in the EU.

Data Localisation in the EU

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, is one of the world’s most comprehensive (and well known) data privacy laws. The GDPR does not, however, insist that personal data must stay in Europe. Instead, it provides a number of legal mechanisms to ensure that GDPR-level protections are available for EU personal data if it is transferred outside the EU to a third country like the United States. Data transfers from the EU to the US were, until recently, permitted under an agreement called the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework.

Shortly after the GDPR went into effect, a privacy activist named Max Schrems filed suit against Facebook for their data collection practices. In July 2020, the Court of Justice of the EU issued the “Schrems II” ruling — which, among other things, invalidated the Privacy Shield framework. However, the court upheld other valid transfer mechanisms that ensure EU personal data won’t be accessed by U.S. government authorities in a way that violates the GDPR.

Since the Schrems II decision, many customers have asked us how we’re protecting EU citizens’ data. Fortunately, Cloudflare has had data protection safeguards in place since well before the Schrems II case, such as our industry-leading commitments on government data requests. In response to Schrems II in particular, we updated our customer Data Processing Addendum (DPA). We incorporated the latest Standard Contractual Clauses, which are legal agreements approved by the EU Commission that enable data transfer. We also added additional safeguards as outlined in the EDPB’s June 2021 Recommendations on Supplementary Measures. Finally, Cloudflare’s services are certified under the ISO 27701 standard, which maps to the GDPR’s requirements.

In light of these measures, we believe that our EU customers can use Cloudflare’s services in a manner consistent with GDPR and the Schrems II decision. Still, we recognize that many of our customers want their EU personal data to stay in the EU. For example, some of our customers in industries like healthcare, law, and finance may have additional requirements.  For that reason, we have developed an optional suite of services to address those requirements. We call this our Data Localisation Suite.

How the Data Localisation Suite helps today

Data Localisation is challenging for customers because of the volume and variety of data they handle. When it comes to their Cloudflare traffic, we’ve found that customers are primarily concerned about three areas:

  1. How do I ensure my encryption keys stay in the EU?
  2. How can I ensure that services like caching and WAF only run in the EU?
  3. How can ensure that metadata is never transferred outside the EU?

To address the first concern, Cloudflare has long offered Keyless SSL and Geo Key Manager, which ensure that private SSL/TLS key material never leaves the EU. Keyless SSL ensures that Cloudflare never has possession of the private key material at all; Geo Key Manager uses Keyless SSL under the hood to ensure the keys never leave the specified region.

Last year we addressed the second concern with Regional Services, which ensures that Cloudflare will only be able to decrypt and inspect the content of HTTP traffic inside the EU. In other words, SSL connections will only be terminated in the EU, and all of our layer 7 security and performance services will only run in our EU data centers.

Today, we’re enabling customers to address the third and final concern, and keep metadata local as well.

How the Metadata Boundary Works

The Customer Metadata Boundary ensures, simply, that end user traffic metadata that can identify a customer stays in the EU. This includes all the logs and analytics that a customer sees.

How are we able to do this? All the metadata that can identify a customer flows through a single service at our edge, before being forwarded to one of our core data centers.

When the Metadata Boundary is enabled for a customer, our edge ensures that any log message that identifies that customer (that is, contains that customer's Account ID) is not sent outside the EU. It will only be sent to our core data center in the EU, and not our core data center in the US.

The Metadata Boundary ensures that a customer’s end user traffic metadata stays in the EU

What’s next

Today our Data Localisation Suite is focused on helping our customers in the EU localise data for their inbound HTTP traffic. This includes our Cache, Firewall, DDoS protection, and Bot Management products.

We’ve heard from customers that they want data localisation for more products and more regions. This means making all of our Data Localisation Products, including Geo Key Manager and Regional Services, work globally. We’re also working on expanding the Metadata Boundary to include our Zero Trust products like Cloudflare for Teams. Stay tuned!