Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba, apologized Wednesday for a checked-by-default option on Alipay's annual bills that allowed its credit scoring system to access user data.
Alipay bills and the Annual User Footprint Report that analyzes how customers have spent their money over the past year are widely shared on China's social media. People tend to show off their purchasing power, especially as the new year begins, but that joy of sharing soon turned into fear and anger.
A button checked by default on the landing page meant users looking up their bills automatically agreed to use Sesame Credit, the credit scoring system of Ant Financial, allowing Sesame to collect and analyze their data and share the analysis with partner institutions.
Users were outraged and accused the company of infringing their privacy.
In response, Sesame Credit late Wednesday apologized and immediately had the default option canceled. Users who have already unwittingly entered into the agreement can deselect the service in the Alipay app.
There were more than half a billion internet users in China by the middle of 2017, and more than 90 percent use mobile payment in brick-and-mortar stores, according to a report by China Internet Network Information Center. A large percentage of those use Alipay.
Sesame Credit claims that more than 200 million users used Alipay to pay for over 100 public services. This has put cyber security at the top of the priority list.
According to the cyber security law, companies and online services that store user data on servers must acquire authorization from the users and make all clauses clear.
Han Zheng, a professor with Tongji University, said the incident showed how Chinese people are increasingly aware of privacy issues.
"We are more willing to share our data and compare with people in other parts of the world, and it has been very easy for companies to collect user data, but that situation is changing now," Han said.
"I will be more cautious when using other online services. I will make sure my personal information is safe before clicking a button on mobile payment platforms," said Zhang Menghan, who has just unsubscribed from Sesame Credit.