Excessive data mining to come to an end as China's personal info protection law comes into effect
Published: Nov 01, 2021 06:53 PM
Personal information protection Photo: VCG

Personal information protection Photo: VCG

A systematic legal framework on the protection of personal data has been formed in China as the highly anticipated Personal Information Protection Law came into effect on Monday. 

From the protection of ordinary citizens to the better regulation of the internet economy, the law will be a strong shield against infringement and a safeguard of the interests of online users through addressing internet chaos such as excessive collection of personal information and secretly recording customers' faces and biological characteristics, experts said.

The law is China's first piece of legislation that emphasizes the systematic protection of citizens' personal information. It clearly sets the principle of informed consent as the basic rule for personal information protection and gives citizens the right to know and the right to make decisions with regard to their personal information, Zhu Wei, a communications researcher at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Together with the Cyber Security Law and Data Security Law, these laws create a comprehensive legal framework on information protection, corporate data compliance and China's digital economy, Zhu said. 

The law prohibits the excessive collection of personal information and big data-enabled price discrimination against existing customers. When pushing information and business marketing to individuals through automated decision-making, personal information processors should provide options that don't target personal characteristics, or offer methods of rejection.

Users' consent should be obtained for the online platforms to process sensitive personal information such as biometrics, medical and health data, financial accounts, and locations. The law also requires the suspension or termination of services for apps that illegally process personal data. 

The law requires internet giants, which possess the personal information of a large number of users, to set up independent bodies that will be mainly composed of outsiders to supervise how the information is handled.

As the law is implemented, the entrepreneurs, shareholders and investors of big Chinese tech companies must realize that the "golden era" of generating handsome profits by invading users' privacy and excessive data mining is gone forever, Li Yi, director of green digital development research center at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday. 

They should follow trends in the digital economy in China and worldwide so as to be in line with global standards, Li said. 

"In order to encourage private enterprises to grow their digital business, China has remained very tolerant [in terms of the regulation of Big Tech] compared with the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe. Western countries' antitrust fines on Big Tech companies are massive and horrible," he noted. 

Tighter regulatory moves and record antitrust fines against Chinese tech firms have prompted them to protect users' rights better, including safeguarding users' personal information and privacy, analysts said. 

As a result, the new law may hit the data-driven decision-making capability of Big Tech, according to Li. 

"When tech companies are not allowed to analyze users with excessive data mining anymore, their operating costs would rise in tandem with higher spending on marketing and research and development skills."

More than 20 companies including matchmaking website and tech giants Tencent and Huawei have promised to strictly safeguard the boundaries of users' privacy, set limits on personal information collection within the law and protect users' rights to fair trade. 

US tech giant Apple said it will utilize users' personal data only under circumstances where there is a legitimate legal basis, and it respects Chinese consumers' rights to know, inspect, correct, transfer and delete data. 

As of June, China had 1.011 billion internet users, with 4.22 million internet websites, and 3.02 million apps.