China warns tech firms to tighten their privacy safeguards

Updated 2018-01-13 11:01:01

China has warned the country's three top tech firms about potential privacy violations, as they face an increasing number of complaints for collecting customer data without consent.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) on Thursday named Ant Financial, a subsidiary of e-commerce giant Alibaba, search engine Baidu, and Beijing Bytedance Technology, owner of popular news app Jinri Toutiao, in a notice posted on its website.

The regulator said the three companies failed to fully disclose to users the purpose behind the collection of their personal information, and their policies for how the information would be used. The regulator ordered the companies to take immediate steps to better safeguard the privacy of their users.

MIIT warned the companies that they would face severe punishment if they were found to be engaging in illegal practices. The regulator will look into possible breaches of individual privacy, and will strengthen their supervision over the collection of personal data by the tech companies.

The notice did not name specific problems with the current practices of the three tech giants.

The news app Jinri Toutiao on Friday denied they had violated the privacy of their users, saying that the company has never accessed users' private data without permission and that this has been communicated to MIIT. The company suggested that it would report to police the recent rumor that it had been stealing users' private data.

Alipay came under fire last week after it was found to be sharing users' personal information by default with Ant Financial when users opened their annual spending report provided by the payment app. Alipay later apologized to its users in a message posted on its official Weibo account, and subsequently changed the default settings in its app.

Also last week, a consumer rights group took Baidu to court, where it was accused of using two of its apps to snoop on consumers' personal information. The Nanjing Intermediate People's Court has accepted the lawsuit filed by the group.

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