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    Beijing Court Rules Against Tencent, ByteDance Apps in User Data Cases

    The Chinese capital’s internet court determined that two hugely popular mobile apps — Douyin and WeChat Read — had infringed users’ personal information.

    Beijing Internet Court has ruled that two popular Chinese apps infringed users’ personal information but did not violate their privacy, state broadcaster China Central Television reported Thursday.

    Last year, a woman surnamed Huang had sued tech giant Tencent after she discovered that her account on the company’s e-reader app, WeChat Read, was automatically linked to her WeChat contacts, and that her virtual bookshelf was viewable to them without her consent.

    Beijing Internet Court ruled that the fact that the plaintiff’s WeChat contacts were linked by default suggested WeChat Read — a separate app — had infringed her personal information. While the court ordered Tencent to pay the plaintiff 6,600 yuan ($950) in compensation, it rejected her claim that her privacy rights had been violated, arguing that books “can also meet the user’s expectation for knowledge sharing and cultural exchange.”

    In a statement to Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper, Tencent said it respects the court’s decision.

    Meanwhile, in the second case, a plaintiff surnamed Ling sued short-video app Douyin because it had recommended “possible contacts” to Ling who were nowhere to be found in Ling’s phone book. Douyin — which is owned by ByteDance, the company behind TikTok — explained during the hearing that Ling had received those contact recommendations because Ling’s phone number had been among their contacts.

    As in the WeChat Read case, the Beijing Internet Court said Douyin had infringed Ling’s personal information but not violated Ling’s privacy, and ordered ByteDance to pay Ling at least 5,000 yuan in compensation.

    ByteDance told The Paper it will appeal the court’s decision.

    A popular tech commentator who uses the pen name Constantine wrote in a blog post Friday that many Chinese tech companies, both large and small, are guilty of infringing users’ personal information.

    “This is because the potential penalties are too light compared to the revenue gained from infringing users’ personal information,” wrote the blogger, adding that the compensation amounts the two Chinese companies were ordered to pay paled in comparison to, say, the 50 million euros the European Union fined Google for data-hoarding, monopolistic behavior, and other dubious practices.

    According to the China Consumers Association, more than 90% of the 100 apps it assessed in 2018 were over-collecting user data. To combat this problem, China’s internet regulator last year announced a regulation aimed at curbing excessive data collection by mobile apps.

    China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recently said that in 2019, it received more than 12,000 complaints of apps illegally collecting users’ personal information, and had punished 260 apps for such violations.

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: People Visual)