2021-05-12 07:01:46

A Shanghai court has sentenced five university students to up to two and a half years in prison each for exploiting a technological glitch to defraud fast food chain KFC by more than 200,000 yuan ($30,700), Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Tuesday.

In April 2018, a university student in the eastern Jiangsu province surnamed Xu discovered a bug while placing an order on KFC’s mobile app: By switching between the app and the restaurant’s official account on WeChat, he realized he could generate endless coupons allowing him to order meals for free.

Overjoyed to have stumbled upon this loophole, Xu began selling discounted KFC meals to others and shared his discovery with four classmates.

By October 2018, Xu had cost Yum China Holdings — the company that operates KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell restaurants in the country — 58,000 yuan, while his four classmates had each cost the company between 8,900 yuan and 47,000 yuan.

According to the Xuhui District People’s Court, by exploiting “asynchronous data processing,” the five students had done more than merely exploit a loophole.

“Being fully aware of this bug, the convicted deliberately engaged in false transactions and illegally profited from them, which constituted the crime of fraud,” the court said.

China’s criminal law stipulates that fraud may be punished by up to three years in prison, or up to 10 years for serious cases involving large sums of money.

The Shanghai court also noted that Xu had taught others how to commit fraud, which is separately punishable by up to five years in prison. But because Xu had turned himself in, confessed to his crime, and earned KFC’s forgiveness by paying compensation to the company, his potential five-year sentence was reduced by half, and he was fined just 6,000 yuan.

His four classmates, meanwhile, were sentenced to between 15 months and two years in prison, and fined 1,000 to 4,000 yuan each.

The case was a viral topic Tuesday on Chinese social media. Some said KFC’s technology department should bear partial responsibility for failing to detect and fix the bug immediately, while others felt that the students should have applied their ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit more judiciously.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A man walks by KFC ads at a subway station in Beijing, May 1, 2021. People Visual)