China chides big tech firms over collection of customers’ data
Government ministry says three companies’ policies to safeguard the protection of personal information are inadequate and any violations will be punished
China reprimanded three top tech firms on Friday over poor privacy protections as technology companies face an increasing backlash from consumers and the authorities over excessive data collection.
Alibaba Group payment affiliate Ant Financial, search firm Baidu and Beijing Bytedance Technology Co, which oversees the popular news feed app Jinri Toutiao, were named by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in a notice posted on it website on Friday.
The regulator said the firms had inadequate policies relating to personal information protection and that any violations would be investigated and “severely punished”.
The notice did not detail any specific punishments.
Chinese payment and social media firms have enjoyed rapid growth driven by the country’s young and mobile-savvy population. But recently top tech companies have drawn criticism from users, competitors and consumer groups over shoddy data collection and sharing practices.
Ant Financial’s Alipay was scolded by cyber regulators on Thursday after users discovered that a feature detailing spending statistics automatically enrolled them into the company’s credit rating programme, giving Alipay access to a wide array of user data.
Ant Financial has since suspended the programme and says it is conducting an internal review. It did not have additional comment on Friday.
A government-backed consumer protection group said last week it was suing Baidu in the eastern province of Jiangsu for failing to properly notify users about which data it is collecting.
Baidu and Beijing Bytedance did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Friday’s notice from industry ministry says the companies will conduct a review to improve product design and internal management practices.
Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.