We’re living in an age of big data, where much of our personal information is collected by companies and has a high risk of being exposed. With personal privacy being an important issue, a recent comment by Baidu founder Li Yanhong attracted a lot of attention.
During a talk at the 2018 China Development Forum in Beijing on March 26, Li said, “I think that the Chinese people are more open, or not so sensitive, about the privacy issue.”
“If they are able to exchange privacy for convenience or efficiency, they are willing to do so in many cases.”
The comment raised a heated discussion among Chinese people, with many saying that Li’s words are far from the truth. “This is an arbitrary assumption about [Baidu’s] entire community of users,” Li Ling, a 25-year-old photographer based in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone.
However, Jia Rui, an investment manager focused on the big data industry, said that Li’s comment reflected the fact that every user agrees to privacy terms before they use platforms such as Baidu, WeChat or Sina Weibo. However, such “agreements” could allow service providers to have access to users’ personal data, and sometimes more data than they really need.
Meanwhile, these “agreements” are often long and complicated, meaning that many users just click “I agree” instead of reading through them carefully.
“That doesn’t mean users do not care about privacy or that the company can use the data however it wants,” Jia told the Global Times. “On the contrary, data protection is the most important thing for companies and the industry regulator.”
Li’s comment came shortly after US social media giant Facebook was accused of leaking the data of 50 million users to Cambridge Analytica, a London-based data firm, which was said to have used the information to affect Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign in 2016.
This triggered an awareness of personal privacy across the world. “People are digging in and looking at the data that’s been collected on them,” Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, told the CNN.
Leaders from tech giants also called for tighter regulation of users’ personal data. “I think this certain situation is so dire, and has become so large, that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook during the 2018 China Development Forum.
Meanwhile, China is also improving personal privacy regulations. In January, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology advised some of China’s biggest internet companies such as Baidu and Ant Financial to do more to inform users about how they collect and use personal data.
As the discussion continues, it’s hoped that users’ personal data will be better protected in the future. Just as Cook said, “Privacy to us is a human right.”