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Former Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan, pictured here on June 14, 2017, warned tech companies in a speech at the China Internet Conference on Tuesday that current business models reliant on excessive data collection will be untenable under future regulations in China. Photo: SCMP

Chongqing’s outspoken ex-mayor speaks his mind about China’s Big Tech companies, offering peek into Beijing’s thinking

  • Former Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan warned that business models relying on harvesting data and taking advantage of human weakness will not work in the future
  • The warning from Huang offers a rare peek into the thinking from Beijing, which has been tightening regulations on Big Tech

Huang Qifan, the outspoken former mayor of China’s largest municipality, has offered a stern warning to China’s technology firms in a speech that serves as a commentary on business practices in the industry.

In a speech at the China Internet Conference in Beijing on Tuesday, Huang said that existing business models of internet firms will no longer work in the coming decade.

“Taking advantage of weaknesses in human nature to entice purchases is actually unscrupulous or even against the law,” said Huang, whose speech was published by the conference organiser Internet Society of China. “The future competition of the internet economy has to take place in a fairer and more trustworthy environment, and companies that design their products targeting human weakness will have a hard time surviving in the long term.”

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The speech by Huang, who ran Chongqing from 2010 to 2016 and has since given up all government posts, is considered important because it offers a rare peek into the thinking at the highest levels of the Chinese government since Beijing started cracking down on Big Tech late last year.

Huang, who attended the conference as a guest professor at Tsinghua University, said the country’s tech companies have four “outstanding problems”: seeking scale and monopolistic power by burning money, designing products that take advantage of human weakness, collecting excessive user data, and charging unfair prices by abusing data.

“This type of business model does not produce optimal allocation of resources, and has a limited contribution to overall value creation in society,” Huang said.

He also said the collection of unessential data – which is not needed for digital services to operate – and requesting excessive permissions on users’ devices “will no longer work as laws and regulations in the tech sector continue to mature”.


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In a public speech last year, the former mayor suggested that he paved the way for Ant Group by granting Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma licenses to start two microcredit firms in Chongqing in 2013 when the entrepreneur was unable to get them in other parts of China. The licenses helped Alibaba expand into consumer credit with firms Huabei and Jiebei, which later contributed the bulk of Ant Group’s profits. Ant was formed in 2014 when it was spun off from Alibaba, the owner of the South China Morning Post.
Chinese regulators have recently been stepping up scrutiny of the business practices that Huang singled out. Tightening antitrust regulations has led the agenda this year for the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR). In April, the market watchdog fined Alibaba a record 18.2 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) over the practice of forcing vendors to exclusively use the e-commerce giant’s platforms. Meituan, the country’s largest on-demand delivery service provider, is also under investigation over alleged monopolistic business practices.
More recently ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has faced mounting regulatory pressure on cybersecurity grounds. Beijing ordered more than 25 Didi-linked apps to be removed from the country’s app stores on allegations of illegal collection and use of user data. An investigation of the company started just days after the company’s blockbuster initial public offering in New York against the wishes of the Cyberspace Administration of China.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Outspoken former mayor warns tech firms over practices