In pri­vacy row, min­istry asks firms to be­have

China Daily (Canada) - - VIEWS - By HE WEI in Shang­hai hewei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China’s telecoms watch­dog on Wed­nes­day urged com­pa­nies to reg­u­late their col­lec­tion and us­age of cus­tomer data, amid a dis­pute in­volv­ing the coun­try’s lead­ing smart­phone maker Huawei Tech­nolo­gies Co Ltd and in­ter­net gi­ant Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd.

The Min­istry of In­dus­try and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy said in a state­ment it is in­ves­ti­gat­ing claims that Huawei’s pre­mium phones have been col­lect­ing user data via Ten­cent’s WeChat ap­pli­ca­tion, and urged the war­ring par­ties to come to a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion.

Based on the Pro­vi­sions on Pro­tect­ing the Per­sonal In­for­ma­tion of Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­ter­net Users, the min­istry will “push com­pa­nies to pro­tect the law­ful rights of con­sumers … and ac­tively co­or­di­nate be­tween the duo to set­tle the dis­pute”, the state­ment said.

The dis­pute, first re­ported by the Wall Street Jour­nal, arose when Huawei’s de­sire to gather data from users of its Honor Magic phone took the form of reading users’ chat logs on WeChat.

Ten­cent, the owner of the WeChat ap­pli­ca­tion, was not pleased and re­port­edly sought the min­istry’s as­sis­tance.

Huawei said in a state­ment that the Honor Magic lineup has passed tests de­vised by the min­istry to show it is not in­fring­ing cus­tomer pri­vacy. It fur­ther said it looks for­ward to an am­i­ca­ble res­o­lu­tion with all rel­e­vant par­ties “dis­cussing plans for in­dus­try de­vel­op­ment and col­lab­o­ra­tion and rules of en­gage­ment”.

Ten­cent, with­out re­fer­ring to the spe­cific Huawei case, said it is com­mit­ted to build­ing a healthy ecosys­tem by work­ing closely with stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing tele­com op­er­a­tors, hand­set man­u­fac­tur­ers, app de­vel­op­ers and reg­u­la­tors.

Cus­tomer pri­vacy is a prickly topic in the age of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, when com­pa­nies grap­ple for valu­able data to beef up AI-driven func­tions. For in­stance, the Honor Magic model al­lows restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions based on a user’s text mes­sages.

The pre­req­ui­site for any com­pany to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion legally is to get the con­sent of the users and prom­ise that such in­for­ma­tion would be uti­lized only for proper busi­ness needs, said Ling Xiao, a Cheng­dubased part­ner at Hui Ye Law Firm.

“If Huawei cap­tures users’ WeChat cor­re­spon­dence with­out get­ting per­mis­sion and ap­plies that data in its own fa­vor, chances are high that Huawei has a com­pli­ance issue,” Ling said.

With data be­ing al­most mo­nop­o­lized by big in­ter­net firms, the gov­ern­ment should step up ef­forts to con­tain their power be­fore the abuse of data be­comes too dan­ger­ous and out of con­trol, said Shaun Rein, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of China Mar­ket Re­search Group.

Fan Feifei and Ma Si in Bei­jing con­trib­uted to this story.

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