Calls rise for better data protection
Sector rises to global dominanc, but investment in security lags
Published: May 26, 2021 09:58 PM
The China International Big Data Industry Expo 2021 kicks off in Guiyang, Southwest China's Guizhou Province on Wednesday Photo: Courtesy of the China International Big Data Industry Expo 2021

The China International Big Data Industry Expo 2021 kicks off in Guiyang, Southwest China's Guizhou Province on Wednesday Photo: Courtesy of the China International Big Data Industry Expo 2021

As China seeks to bolster its world-leading big data industry, which has transformed businesses and people's daily lives, there are calls for more efforts to protect data security. In addition to increasing investment in security, regulations are needed to ensure that both domestic and foreign businesses enhance the protection of consumer data, analysts said on Wednesday.

At the China International Big Data Industry Expo 2021, a major event for the fast-growing sector that kicked off in Guiyang, Southwest China's Guizhou Province on Wednesday, Chinese officials and industry leaders highlighted bold visions for big data development. 

But the urgency to strengthen data security also became a hot topic at the event, following discussions of data security both at home and abroad. Data security has also become an area of dispute in the escalating China-US tech rivalry, as politicians in the US have often groundlessly accused China over privacy protection , while demanding US businesses to store consumer data in China.

Addressing the opening ceremony of the expo, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He stressed the importance of big data in innovation and development in the post-COVID-19 era.

"China should broaden the application scenarios of big data, and foster the integration of digital technologies in various industries. China will also open further to welcome international companies to invest in China," said Liu, adding that the country will strengthen infrastructure construction in computing power and data power.

Highlighting the burgeoning big data industry, the event attracted 225 companies, including Huawei, nucleic acid test kit maker BGI Group, China Mobile, leading facial recognition technology company SenseTime, Tencent and Baidu. Enterprises from 51 countries and regions are also taking part.

Guizhou has become a major hub for the big data industry with added value of the digital economy totaling 164.9 billion yuan ($25.7 billion) in 2020 and more than 5,000 companies focusing on big data and related areas. Major corporations, including US tech giant Apple, have built data centers in the province.

However, the growing big data industry has also drawn attention and criticism from the US, where officials and media outlets accuse China of forcing foreign businesses to store data in the country and criticize US companies for following Chinese regulations. 

In what it billed as an investigative piece on May 17, the New York Times accused Apple of compromising in China and even helping the Chinese government carry out censorship and surveillance. Apple firmly pushed back against those allegations, saying they were based on inaccurate information.

Chinese officials and analysts also argued that storing local consumers' data in China is not only in line with global common practice but also necessary to protect data security and personal information. China's efforts to protect its citizens' personal data should be viewed objectively and fairly, as many countries around the world, including the US and Europe, are also increasing their digital security, analysts said.

At the event on Wednesday, industry insiders noted more investments and efforts are needed to enhance data protection by both domestic and foreign businesses operating in the Chinese market. 

"In the digital era, development and security are inextricably linked, with security the prerequisite for development. China used to focus on the security of the internet and systems, while the scope of security has expanded to data and business," Yan Li, founder and president of Venustech Group Inc, said at a panel discussion focused on security on Wednesday. 

Yang noted that as China is leading in digital development, it is also exploring various ways of protecting data, as many countries and regions, including the US and Europe, are falling behind in the digital push. 

Even as some Western politicians criticize China's efforts in protecting its data security, US and European officials have stepped up crackdowns on big corporations' power of big data through legal actions and investigations.

China also needs more efforts, particularly increased investments and regulations, to enhance data protection, industry insiders said at the event on Wednesday.

Liu Bo, chief scientist of DBAPPSecurity, said that China's current data security industry is too small in scale, and the investments are also small compared with investments in other industries.

According to Liu, China's investment on data security accounts for less than 2 percent of all industry investments, compared with the global level of less than 3 percent, and 6 percent in the US. Investment in data security accounts for 20 percent of investment in the information industry in the US.

Liu said that regulations and laws are also necessary for the healthy development of the big data industry.

Chinese officials and regulators have been moving swiftly to address problems and risks in the digital economy, including monopolistic practices, and the illegal collection and use of consumer data. 

In late April, a revised draft law on safeguarding China's data security was submitted to the National People's Congress Standing Committee, China's top legislature, for deliberations. More recently, following growing concerns over the data collected by electric cars, particularly Tesla cars -- which are known for their camera systems and sensors - Chinese regulators on May 12 issued strict draft rules on data collection and use by car companies. 

Tesla said on Tuesday that it has built data centers and will increase such facilities in China to store local consumers' data.