Caixin
Oct 23, 2019 04:02 AM
FINANCE

Beijing Probes Tech Companies’ Data Scraping Activities

Beijing financial regulator is conducting a blanket probe of all big data companies. Photo: VCG
Beijing financial regulator is conducting a blanket probe of all big data companies. Photo: VCG

The Chinese government is taking strong actions to better regulate how fintech companies collect personal information.

Beijing’s financial regulator is conducting a blanket probe of all big data companies to see whether they illegally gather personal information online, a process known as data scraping.

Companies are required to submit a commitment letter promising not to engage in such activities, and those that were found to be conducting such activities are required to report and correct them as soon as possible, according to window guidance issued Tuesday by the Beijing Financial Supervision Administration.

Since mid-September, multiple big data and data scraping companies as well as online lenders in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hangzhou have been checked by the authorities. The crackdown and wave of investigations was triggered when some online lenders were found using borrowers’ personal information to facilitate debt collection.

Police Monday raided the Hong Kong-listed online credit card management platform 51 Credit Card Inc. in the eastern city Hangzhou. Authorities had received a large number of complaints that the company contracted debt collectors who pretended to work for the government. Users cited malicious debt collection methods such as exposing users’ contacts and harassing families and friends.

Data scraping, also known as web crawling, is the process of using computer programming that automatically searches documents on the Web to collect data. According China’s Internet Security Law enacted in 2017, web crawling of publicly available information is legal, but it’s illegal to use the technology to obtain nonpublic, personal, sensitive information without consent.

However, it’s a common practice for online lending apps to trick users into accepting without their knowledge lengthy user agreements including terms such as authorizing the extraction of users’ contact lists and the use of personal information for third-party cooperation by the apps.

Chinese regulators have recently unveiled a series of documents to tackle the issue of abuse and misuse of personal information.

Last month, the central bank circulated a draft of trial measures on the protection of personal financial information and data to solicit comments from banks. The new rules would ban financial institutions from obtaining personal information from any third party illegally engaged in the personal credit investigation business and securing users’ consent through a blanket consent arrangement. Banks must also terminate any cooperation with third-party data providers that cannot guarantee the legitimacy of the data source.

The Supreme People’s Court, law enforcement and justice departments jointly issued a notice Monday on handling of criminal cases of illegal lending and malicious debt collection.

The Beijing Banking Regulatory Bureau issued a formal document last week specifying what financial institutions can and cannot do with big data. The new rules ban collaboration between financial institutions and debt collectors using illegal collection methods. Lenders are also required not to outsource their risk control to third parties.

Contact reporter Denise Jia (huijuanjia@caixin.com)

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