A report in China last year said 91 out of 100 mobile apps that it reviewed were suspected of collecting too much data, without naming them. Photo: Alamy

China’s authorities have requested that internet companies strengthen protection of personal data amid rising concerns that some are violating consumer privacy by stealing, trading or revealing personal information in the name of conducting big data research.

“Without consumer consent, member organisations should not collect, use or provide personal consumer information to third parties,” said a statement earlier this month by China’s national internet finance association. “All member institutions should take personal responsibility for protecting personal information. Problems [if found] should be corrected immediately and reported to the association … consumer risk warnings should also be strengthened.”

China’s internet companies have extolled the virtues of how large amounts of data can be used by AI tools to enhance the consumer experience but on the other they have had to be nimble in responding to rising consumer anxiety over how personal data is harvested and used.

This is not the first time that Chinese authorities have asked the industry to enhance data privacy controls. Earlier this year, the China Consumers Association (CCA) warned that a large number of smartphone apps in China were collecting an excessive amount of personal data, including user location, contact lists and mobile numbers.

Meanwhile, a separate report last year said that 91 out of 100 mobile apps that it reviewed were suspected of collecting too much data, without naming them.

China is currently working on new data privacy laws, in an effort to address sensitive issues that have also tasked governments elsewhere as more aspects of everyday life become a digital experience. During the “two sessions” in April, National People’s Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui said authorities had hastened the drafting of a law to protect personal data, but did not say when it would be completed or enacted.

Meanwhile, the US Senate has been holding hearings on new privacy laws to protect all Americans while the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force across the EU in May 2018. (Source: SCMP.com)

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