Apps

China’s mobile apps collect too much data, says consumer body

  • Many apps collect excessive data, do not make clear how they share data with third parties, according to report by China Consumers Association.
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 9:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 3:08pm

A large number of smartphone apps available in China have been found to be collecting an excessive amount of personal data, including user location, contact lists and mobile numbers, according to a mainland consumer rights watchdog.

The China Consumers Association said in a report published on Wednesday that 91 out of 100 mobile apps that it recently reviewed are suspected of collecting too much data, without naming them.

The findings were the result of the consumer watchdog’s review of the user terms and privacy policy of 100 apps downloaded from both Apple and Android app stores on the mainland in September. The report separately listed case studies of common lapses in data privacy and protection statements by the apps.

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“Most of the apps [reviewed] received a pass or lower rating,” the consumer watchdog’s report said. “The problem [of excessive data harvesting] is especially severe among smaller app providers, which have no privacy clauses or provide unreasonable terms.”

Protection of consumer data in China was “under severe challenge”, which warrants the attention of regulators, the association said.

Concerns are deepening globally over user privacy and data security, and over how technology companies worldwide handle personal information, as the rise of the digital economy meant more and more of everyday activity is now online.

According to the Chinese consumer association report, navigation, travel and hotel booking, cloud storage and wealth management services providers were among those that collect the most data.

Selfie app Meitu was listed as an example of a company that excessively collected biometric and financial information. A spokeswoman for Hong Kong-listed Meitu said the company was dedicated to protecting user data and provides a clear description of the personal information that it collects, including purpose, methods of processing and data-security measures.

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Bicycle-renting firm Ofo did not provide enough clarity of how it shares personal information with third parties, according to the report. Ofo declined to comment.

Ant Financial’s Alipay app, the highest rated among payment apps in the report, may give users the impression that all the information collected was compulsory by not specifying what is sensitive personal information.

“Ant Financial sees users’ privacy and data security as our top priorities. Our ability to safeguard user data is our license to operate. Aiming for the best user experience, we have been optimizing our privacy policy, as well as upgrading key privacy protection technologies – and will continue to do so,” an Ant Financial spokesman said in a statement.

“We appreciate the China Consumers Association’s recognition of Alipay as the top payment app that best protects user privacy, and look forward to working with all stakeholders to make necessary improvements so as to safeguard consumer interest.”

Ant Financial is an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, which is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

Other apps reviewed by the report for their data privacy and protection policies include QQ and WeChat from Tencent Holdings and Baidu-backed video streaming service iQiyi. Representatives for the two companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.