Personal information of over 200,000 children in Jinan, East China's Shandong Province, including the cellphone number and home address of their parents have been leaked, triggering widespread concerns on the possible consequences if criminals get hold of the data.
The data was offered for 32,000 yuan ($4,900) from hospitals where the children were vaccinated, Shandong-based Qilu Evening News reported Wednesday.
Over 60 percent of the data of a sampling list of 29 children, aged from 1 to 5, acquired by the newspaper's reporter are accurate after the reporter called and checked everyone, the report said. Parents also complained that they have received many fraudulent calls, guessing that their information might have be leaked when their children were vaccinated at local hospitals.
What worries them more, they said, is the possible danger they might face if criminals get hold of the data, who might extort money or even kidnap their children.
The data of newborn babies in Beijing, including 40,000 babies born since 2016, could be bought for 0.2 yuan per baby, according to a seller reached by the Global Times on Thursday.
Such data gathered from hospitals and different cities in China, mostly first- and second-tier cities, could be offered, said those sellers.
Though those who illegally sell personal information could face a maximum of seven years in prison based on Article 253 of China's Criminal Law, sellers are willing to take the risk as the chances of getting caught are slim, said Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communications Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law.
"There's very little supervision on the protection of personal information from the government, including the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and Cyberspace Administration of China," he added.
He noted that hackers obtained some of the data, while other data was leaked by government workers who collude with sellers.
"It's illegal … I am a civil servant and will not take the risk," a seller told the Qilu Evening News when refusing a face-to-face trade.
Another seller reached by the Global Times said apart from data of newborn babies, he can also provide information of those who buy a car or house and register at local authorities.
The car's plate number and brand, as well as the phone number, home address and ID number of the owner were included in a sample provided by the seller, who identified himself as "Wangshisuifeng."
The information was provided by the car management bureau of the local public security bureau, he added.
Zhu noted that the person who collects, saves and deletes those pieces of information should also be clearly identified so they could be traced when the information is leaked.
Local governments have been cracking down on the sale of personal information in recent years. Shenzhen authorities arrested two suspects in March after the media reported the leaking of pregnant women's information in major hospitals.
"I profited from over 30 percent of the data I bought," said a Beijing photography studio owner surnamed Chen, adding that the business has been going on for years.
Owing a studio specializing in taking photos of 100-day-old babies, Chen has been purchasing the information of at least 10,000 babies every month since 2015 for 0.8 yuan each. And the chance of gaining a client from that data is 30 percent, she said on Thursday.
Sellers can gain as much as 300 yuan by selling a person's "more specific information," such as a pregnant woman's cellphone number, the hospital and bed number, and her surgery date, Nandu Daily reported in March.
That's partially why such a business is thriving and has not been curbed, Zhu said.