Chinese internet giant Baidu is facing public interest litigation in Jiangsu Province after refusing to make changes in two smartphone applications suspected of being able to illegally monitor users' phone calls and obtaining their contact lists.
The Nanjing Intermediate People's Court placed the case on file on Tuesday, the Jiangsu Provincial Consumers Council told a media briefing on Friday.
The council said that in July it had talked to 27 companies that operate popular mobile phone applications in the areas of audio and video, book reading, mobile payment and travel, and that it had found issues infringing on consumers' personal information.
"So far most of the companies have submitted their rectification plans to us with substantive measures - including deleting unnecessary authority to obtain the users' information, providing a reminder to users, adding a page for users to choose to give the permission or not - which respects consumers' rights to know and choose, and better safeguards consumers' personal privacy," the council said.
However, Baidu refused to make changes to its two apps - Mobile Baidu and Baidu Browser - which the council said had functions that could monitor users' phone calls, read text and multimedia messages, and obtain their contact lists.
"Before users install such apps, the apps do not state that they include such functions, which obviously exceed the reasonable range for apps providing internet search service," the council said.
"Moreover, the apps do not clarify to users the way and the intention for getting such information, and the company shifted the responsibility to the smartphone operating systems," it said.
Operators who collect and use consumers' personal information are legally required to clarify to users why the information is collected and how it will be used and only use it with users' permission.
Beijing-based Baidu had not responded by press time.
The provincial consumers council said it began the investigation last year after finding that the practice of infringing on users' personal information - which has led to many cases in recent years, causing huge financial losses - were prevalent in the app industry.
Ju Shang, deputy secretary-general of the council, said the lawsuit is an effort to protect the legal rights and interests of consumers including but not confined to those in the province.
"We aim not only to halt the illegal infringement actions of Baidu but also promote the healthy development of the app industry and foster a safe and reassuring internet environment," she said.
Some internet users said they often feel disgusted with apps that can acquire certain information by default if the users' do not decline permission, and said it is the right time to regulate the app market.
"They include knowing where I am through GPS, my mobile phone model and configuration, and having the right to send me text messages for commercials," said an internet user going by the penname of Karl.