Baby data racket leads to arrest in Shenzhen

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2011, 12:00am


Shenzhen police have detained a woman accused of possessing and selling the private information of millions of people, including newborn babies, millionaires and car owners. The news raised fears about how the information was leaked.

The leak was first reported on Tuesday by the Shenzhen Evening Post after a reporter posed as a customer and paid the woman 300 yuan (HK$367) for 150,000 pieces of personal information about babies born last year.

The woman told the reporter to 'just call [to verify the information], and I won't charge if it's not accurate. We have someone from inside the hospital.'

The file featured information about babies - such as that commonly found on birth certificates - born at almost all hospitals in Shenzhen last year, including Peking University Shenzhen Hospital and Shenzhen People's Hospital.

The information is valuable in the hands of marketers, especially those in the mainland's booming baby products industry who, for instance, may call the mother to schedule a birthday photo shoot or enrol the child in an early-education centre.

It is common for new mothers to get such calls days after giving birth, or even during their pregnancy. The reporter, a father, received from the woman accurate information about his baby's birthday, the hospital where the child was delivered and even his wife's phone number and their home address.

The woman also told him that she had 'personal information about many rich people, such as the owners of property and villas.'

After getting the information on Monday morning, the reporter went to police before running the story, and authorities detained the woman that afternoon when she sold information to the reporter a second time.

Police later searched her home computer and said they found more than 6,000 files containing personal information, including not only details about babies and mothers, but also about children in Shenzhen aged six to nine years old, owners of property, cars and stock accounts, and overweight people. One folder contained the names, phone numbers and addresses of more than 210,000 people whose bank savings surpassed 10 million yuan each.

There were an estimated 10 million pieces of personal information on the computer, authorities said.

The woman, a Henan native, said she got the files from an online friend in a chat room. She said she earned 100 yuan for every file she sold, and said the reporter was her first customer. The reporter went to the woman after receiving a tip-off from a local resident.

Hospitals contacted by the Shenzhen Evening Post all denied that they were the source of the leak.

A hospital chief said babies born in the hospital had their personal information stored in a shared database for future reference, but it was technically impossible for them to download such files. The hospital chief said only the Shenzhen medical data centre, directly affiliated with the Shenzhen Health, Population and Family Planning Commission, was able to download the files from any hospital.

An official with the commission told the newspaper that the commission had welcomed a police investigation and had started an internal inquiry as well. The official vowed to severely punish any employees found responsible for the leak.

But Liu Bo, a police official in charge of publicity in Shenzhen, said it was a difficult case to tackle, because the widespread reports on television and in newspapers had probably tipped off the source who provided the woman with private information.