Amidst Increased Government Surveillance, Chinese Internet Users Finally Gain Important Online Privacy Protections

from the not-all-bad-news,-all-the-time dept

Techdirt stories about China have been relentlessly grim in recent years, offering a depressing vision of an online world under ever-greater surveillance, with correspondingly more systems for censoring every digital thought. But it’s important not to get too apocalyptic, and to remember that life goes on. Just like their counterparts in the West, people in China are using the Internet for more and more of their daily lives. Arguably a greater problem than government surveillance for most people is the lack of privacy protections under Chinese law, which has led to highly-personal online information routinely being gathered and sold by third parties.

In this context, the Caixin site has details of what it calls a “landmark privacy case” that may help to rein in some of that widespread abuse. The original complaint was brought by Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, against an erstwhile partner, Maimai, which offers an enterprise chat app of the same name.

An intellectual property court in Beijing has just made one of China’s first precedent-setting rulings on the issue by upholding a lower court?s ruling against Maimai. The original case was brought nearly two years ago by Weibo, which said its millions of users had their publicly available personal data improperly mined by Maimai.

Even more important than the ruling against Maimai are the guidelines laid down by the court that will apply more generally to the handling of personal data on the Chinese Net:

the court issued an article on its official microblog on Wednesday laying out guidance for similar cases involving user privacy when data is publicly available on sites like Weibo. That guidance gave six instances of what constitutes “improper” use of such data, including the potential to harm a user’s welfare and disturbing order on the internet.

Those policies were part of the court’s broader opinion that third parties who gather such publicly available user information from services like Weibo should not violate individual privacy without making a concerted effort to get authorization from both platform operators and actual users.

This latest development is an important reminder that alongside other, more worrying trends, the online world in China is also seeing real progress. That offers hope that one day the heightened Internet surveillance being carried out could be rolled back too — both in China and in the West, where it has also increased dramatically in recent years, let us not forget.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Amidst Increased Government Surveillance, Chinese Internet Users Finally Gain Important Online Privacy Protections”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t know if this is bad translation or not because on the surface the ruling is completely absurd.

Maimai got sued and lost for accessing and mining *publicly* available information about people. It didn’t say private privileged information Weibo gathered, but *public* information ostensibly easily gathered. Because if Maimai needs authorization for the data to be used then it’s not *public*, it’s *private*.

So as written, no this isn’t a good ruling, it’s stupid and wrong headed and you end up with the same situation where accessing information that’s otherwise publicly available but some government official has a burr under his saddle against you or your company, he can go after you for breaching “privacy” when no such breech happened.

I really really hope this is a bad translation (which often happens with Chinese > English).

The guidance issued is mostly Chinese boiler-plate that basically says “Don’t do anything we don’t like or make waves or rock the boat because we’ll shoot you and charge your next of kin for the bullet.” AKA business as usual.

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