Attitudes to data privacy changing in China

Ziyang Fan, head of digital trade at the World Economic Forum says high-profile data breaches such as those suffered by Facebook have caught the attention of consumers in China, CNBC reports.

Users are being made more aware of the importance of protecting personal information thanks to intrusions in recent months whereby millions of consumers have seen their data accessed by unauthorised parties online.

Concern has risen in China where greater use of innovative mobile services has created huge data stores, and fears are growing that personal information could be handled irresponsibly as a result.

It is now commonplace for Chinese consumers to pay with a smartphone using Alibaba-affiliated Alipay, or Tencent’s WeChatPay, while WeChat has become the go-to for personal and business messaging.

Convenience is key here – Chinese citizens are fully prepared to divulge information from their financial, professional and personal lives to organisations to help their daily lives run smoother. However, as security awareness increases so too does demand that organisations improve their handling practices.

A recent report published by the China Consumers Association stated that 91 of 100 apps surveyed could be guilty of collected too much data.

In an interview with CNBC last week, Ziyang Fan said:

“Recently in the past year [or so], because Facebook had this issue, the data privacy issue has also captured the Chinese consumers’ attention and the government’s attention.”

Fan, who is head of digital trade at the World Economic Forum, also acknowledged that Baidu CEO, Robin Li had provoked a backlash when at the start of 2018 he claimed that Chinese people do not care about data privacy.

It’s the smaller companies in China that are taking leads on data protection, as consumer worries grow over how the government and big brands such as Facebook, Tencent and Google deal with the huge amounts of data they hold.

Speaking at CNBC’s East Tech West conference in China last Wednesday, Jim Wang, chairman and founder of Nova Vision, said:

“In China, the medical industry, also the technology industry, the technology companies that are working with AI and also with a lot of data, we all have a common agreement that the symptom data can be collected in a big chunk for big data analysis and also AI training. But personal information must be delinked, desensitized.”

Eric Ho, group CEO of healthcare-focused payments firm, IHD Pay, also stated that his firm separates medical information from personal data.

“We take away the name, the identification number of the patient in question. We only look at the general data. And then we develop different algorithms to mine those data, but not to pinpoint any particular patient.”

It may not be clear whether other firms follow these standards, data privacy laws do exist, but enforcement hasn’t been effective in China. However, some schools of thought claim that less regulation enables more innovation to grow.

More stringent attitudes globally to data security, exemplified by the GDPR, has made it tougher for Chinese firms to grow internationally, says Jim Wang.

“There’s a struggle. For the AI algorithm to be very efficient and more efficient you need a lot of data. But then, on the other hand, if you want to protect your personal privacy, you do not want to share data, so it’s give and take.”

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