Smartphone Apps In China Found To Collect Excessive Personal Data

Smartphone Apps
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A consumer rights watchdog in China found that the majority of smartphone apps available in the country were collecting excessive personal data, including mobile numbers and contact lists. The findings were gathered from the review of the user terms and privacy policy of 100 apps downloaded from both Android and Apple app stores on the mainland back in September.

On Wednesday, the China Consumers Association revealed in their report that 91 out of 100 mobile apps were suspected of data abuse, among these apps include Ofo, Alipay, and Meitu. Other offending apps found to collect such data were those from travel and hotel booking, navigation, wealth management service providers, as well as cloud storage. They also reviewed other social messaging apps like WeChat and iQiyi, the South China Morning Post reported.

The review comes following the increasing concern regarding privacy among Chinese users and how the technology in the country handles personal information. A law in the mainland requires companies to store the data of users on servers in the country, and tech companies reportedly pass the data to the Chinese government if ever they make a request.

The watchdog's report noted the majority of the reviewed apps have either passed or received a lower rating. The problem in excess data collection is particularly severe among smaller app providers because they have no privacy clauses or provide unreasonable terms. The report added China was under "severe challenge" regarding protecting the consumer data.

Ofo, backed by Ant Financial, declined to comment regarding the said review. The company is an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Hong Kong-listed Meitu said they were dedicated to protecting user's data and provided a clear description upon collecting personal information, such as data-security measures and methods of processing.

Analyzing and harvesting excessive personal data become significant for tech companies particularly because they fuel artificial-intelligence initiatives - usually used to understand consumers and develop improved services. However, there's an increasing concern about data privacy over the past years due to the rise of social media controversies, as well as cybersecurity breaches.

In January, three giant tech companies in China - Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba - separately faced public criticisms on how they handled the information collected by their apps. Tencent clarified the content of conversations on its popular messaging app, WeChat, are stored only on the user's computer, mobile phone, or other communications device.

The Jiangsu Consumer Council filed a lawsuit against New York-listed Baidu as it reportedly collects personal data of consumers through the mobile browser and search apps. Meanwhile, Alibaba-backed Ant Financial apologized for opting in users for credit scoring system, a move that angered consumers as they felt the company misleads them into handing over their data.

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