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Saleswomen use live-streamed marketing campaigns to help drive demand for cosmetic products at a shopping centre in northern China’s Hebei province. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing police bust firm stealing data from live-streaming e-commerce apps as China boosts personal information protection under new law

  • Chinese data analysis firm Pangqiu was caught illegally using crawler software to siphon data from live-streaming apps
  • Following the police action, live-streaming e-commerce influencer Austin Li Jiaqi denied allegations of data manipulation with the aid of firms like Pangqiu
Police in Beijing have busted a data analysis company, which ranks Chinese online influencers in sales performance, for illegally using crawler software to steal data from live-streaming apps, ahead of the roll-out on Monday of the country’s new Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL).

The office of data analysis firm Pangqiu, which means “Fat Ball” in Mandarin, was raided by the police on September 15 and some 23 employees were arrested for “illegal acquisition of computer information system data”, according to a police statement and media reports late last month. The Beijing Public Security Bureau did not directly identify Pangqiu, but a Chinese state television report showed the company’s logo and company name.

The police investigation found that Pangqiu sold live-streaming data captured by crawler software, which is used to create entries for a search engine index. The website and WeChat account of the firm, which made more than 400,000 yuan (US$6,243) from its illegal activity, have been inactive since September, according to an online check by the South China Morning Post. Pangqiu could not be reached for comment.
Following that police action, China’s top live-streaming e-commerce influencer Austin Li Jiaqi, also known as the “King of Lipsticks”, on Sunday denied allegations of providing fake traffic numbers and using data manipulation with the aid of firms like Pangqiu.
Austin Li Jiaqi last month sold US$1.9 billion worth of goods on the first day of Alibaba Group Holding’s presales campaign for its annual Singles’ Day shopping festival this November. Photo: Youku
Li said his own company follows strict data management measures and that it never took part in any manipulation of information related to online sales rankings, according to his company’s post on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

The Beijing police’s action and Li’s vehement denial reflect the high stakes involved in Beijing’s crackdown against dubious internet activities and on the PIPL’s restrictions on the collection, use and management of personal data.

In August, antitrust watchdog the State Administration for Market Regulation released a draft of new rules that empowered its municipal and provincial bureaus to investigate “inappropriate competitive behaviour”, including inflating traffic, manipulating reviews and blocking links to rival websites.
Live-streaming campaigns to sell products have become China’s fastest-growing internet application, counting about a third of the country’s online population as users, according to a report in October last year by the government-affiliated China Netcasting Services Association.

Live-streamed shopping campaigns have been credited with helping China’s retail sector recover last year, as the domestic economy gradually reopened in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, for example, has bolstered its live-streaming efforts to fend off strong competition from perennial rival, the group-buying platforms of Meituan and Pinduoduo, and the live-streaming e-commerce businesses of Kuaishou Technology and ByteDance. Hangzhou-based Alibaba owns the Post.
These e-commerce platforms have each launched marketing programmes to support their initiatives for the country’s annual Singles’ Day shopping festival. Sales figures from this event have become important data to help analyse the health of the nation’s economy.
Li and Viya Huang Wei, known as China’s live-streaming queen, recorded total sales of 18.9 billion yuan during their live-streaming sessions on October 20, when Alibaba kicked off its presales period for this year’s Singles’ Day retail extravaganza, according to third-party data analysis company Hongren Dianji.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing police crack down on data theft ahead of new law