Internet-privacy in China

Just like in any other country in the world, internet in China has made everyone ‘privacy-less’. However, there are some differences here: in most parts of the world, people are blaming Google and Facebook for exposing and sneakily accumulating personal information; in China, where almost all the world-wide social media are blocked, this is not an issue. In this case, what is causing the information to leak in China and how should companies protect the customer privacy?

Let’s take a step back and look at two known cases of privacy breaches in China:

Case 1: A web shop on Taobao (China’s largest e-Commerce platform) launched a flash sale in 2014. Apparel products were sold at only ¥1 RMB for a limited amount of time. Shoppers were required to submit their personal information in order to enter the promotion page. Around 15,000 customers did so and, the shop immediately closed down before the sale even started. A few days later, almost all the customers received bulk advertising calls and SMS as a result of this flash sale fraud.

Case 2: In 2014, a young man published a post on his Weibo (Twitter’s counterpart in China) account saying that he had met the perfect girl in a comic show. He briefly described her appearance and asked if anyone knew this girl by chance. Over the next few days, this post was reposted thousands of times. Finally, Weibo users not only found out who she was, but also disclosed her social media profile and contact information online. This kind of ‘cyber manhunt’ has happened in China frequently. On one hand, it successfully spotted some criminals and corrupted government officials. On the other hand, it also led to illegal and massive disclosure of one’s privacy.

These two cases show possible ways of privacy breach in China. Besides, there are more reasons attributing to privacy breaches:

Real-name registration on social media.
The government is urging people to register with their real name and ID information on multiple social media in China. Some social media even made it mandatory to submit personal information upon registration. While it potentially reduces online slanders and fraud, doing so is putting user’s privacy at stake.

Unstated use of cookies on websites.
People are usually not aware of cookies when they are browsing the internet. Therefore it is mandatory for companies to inform customers about how cookies are used on the website. Cookies can give a company information about a person’s online behavior and preferences. They can be used by illegal advertisers to stalk customer’s behavior and send advertisements accordingly.

● Phishing websites.
Similar to the first case, there are many phishing websites disguised as flash sales or lucky draws. These websites steal personal information and use it for monetary purposes.

According to a survey conducted by Eastday, around 70% of the netizens in China will pursue legal approach if their privacy is invaded. Most of them claim that they would not revisit the page if they knew which website leaked their information, even if it happened unintentionally.

There are some tips to keep your customer data safe:

1. Password security.
Always recommend your customers to use a strong password—combination of numbers and letters (capital and lower case). Meanwhile, it is also considerate to send emails regularly to remind customers to change their passwords.

password security

2. Inform customers about the use of cookies.
When customers visit your website, let them know that you are using cookies to track their behaviour. Also, tell them how to activate the ‘Do not track’ feature on different browsers. Doing so not only ensures customers’ privacy, but also establishes the image of an honest company.

cookie using

3. Use verification code.
Password plus real time verification code double the security level for your customers. Send the code to the person’s mobile when he/she is trying to log in. Some companies even offer the option to call the customers upon logging in. Keep in mind that this has to be real time, otherwise it will jeopardize customer experience.

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4. However you want to use your customer’s information, say it.
A lot of companies are sharing (some of) their customer information with partners. This is also allowed in China. However, you have to explicitly state what information and with whom are you sharing with. Ask your customers to check the box to show that they are aware of the privacy statement.

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In conclusion, how well customer privacy is protected strongly relates to the company image. Make sure that this is included in your checklist of enhancing customer experience.

Written by: Zhe Gong, International Marketing Executive Webpower