Mobile gaming

Alibaba-linked mobile game comes under fire for ‘leaking’ 36,000 private user videos

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2014, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2015, 11:20am

The Chinese developers of a smartphone-based charades game came under fire after being caught having released some 36,000 private videos that users thought would only be shared to their friends.

The game, Fengkuang Laiwang (or Crazy Laiwang), co-developed with Alibaba’s Laiwang unit, is based on charades and allows users to record themselves miming or attempting to guess what the others are expressing.

The guesser must hold up a mobile device to display a word, which the opponent must then translate into gestures. Users could share the videos with select friends.

But gamers were stunned to learn that the game automatically uploaded their videos – many showing users naked or in their underwear – to Crazy Laiwang‘s account on video-sharing website and making them public.

As of earlier this week, there were 35,959 clips stored under the account, according to The Beijing News. Altogether, the movie clips have received for almost three million views, with the oldest clip uploaded four months ago.

The game is one of two recommended on Laiwang, a WeChat-like messaging platform launched by Alibaba Group Holding about a year ago. It is sold on both Apple and Android stores.

A statement on Tuesday evening by the game’s two developers, Zhejiang Zhile Network and Beijing’s Hortor Soft, said the videos were uploaded to Youku so that they could be stored before being shared with the user’s friends.

The developers apologised for “failing to notify users that the video clips are uploaded to” and said they have halted the game’s video-sharing feature. It also asked Youku to remove all related content.

Laiwang and Alibaba declined to comment on the incident on Wednesday, citing only the game developers’ statement.

Following the embarrassing leak, industry experts voiced concerns over a possible tightening in regulations over the mobile game industry.

Pei Wang, a research manager at IDC China’s Enterprise System and Software Research Group, said games like Crazy Laiwang were cooperating with huge platforms like Alibaba’s messaging app because they wanted a wide reach.

Pei warned users to pay more attention to safeguarding their privacy because “privacy law is inadequate in China”.

You Yunting, an intellectual property lawyer from the Shanghai DeBund Law firm, said the game potentially violated a number of laws and regulations, including those protecting personal-data-related provisions and laws that protect consumers, women and minors.

You said the privacy-disclosure privacy could potentially make the mobile gaming industry face tougher regulations.

“The government institution has an intrinsic motivation to strengthen its regulations. Any significant incident in any industry can become a pretext for authority to expand its regulations,” You said.

China’s internet gaming industry is regulated by both the state General Administration of Press and Publication and the Ministry of Culture, with the former responsible for approving games’ for publishing and the latter supervising the games’ operation.

The Chinese government typically blocks games with questionable content ranging from gore and violence to material deemed critical of the Communist Party. In December last year, it banned video game Battlefield 4, for instance, because it portrayed China’s military in a negative light.

“The two authorities could compete with each other on strengthening regulations because when one of them steps up supervision, the other one would appear to be neglecting of duty if not following up,” You said. “As a result the regulation over the gaming industry could only become tighter.”