Baidu boss claims Chinese willing to trade privacy for convenience, sparking social media outcry
The chief of China's largest search engine claimed that Chinese are willing to trade privacy for convenience, causing outcry on the country's social media, while Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, has just taken out full-page ads in multiple newspapers to apologize for his company's “breach of trust” in the recent data privacy scandal.

“In my opinion, Chinese people hold a more open attitude toward privacy issues which are relatively less sensitive (for them). If they could use (their) privacy to trade for convenience, safety or efficiency, in most cases, they'll do it,” Li Yanhong, or Robin Li, the CEO of Baidu, addressed the China Development Forum 2018, an annual event sponsored by the Development Research Center of State Council, a state agency responsible for policy research.

He made the remarks while talking about ways to use data. He indicated when different data from different sources is converged, it can add to strength. “Certainly we need to follow some rules. If the data (collected by us) could benefit our users and they're willing to (share with us), we will use it.”

Li also admitted that China has become more and more aware of the significance of privacy protection, with better law enforcement over the years. Despite that, his claims about “willingness” of Chinese users to let out personal data immediately spurred widespread indignation on social media, with countless netizens cursing the entrepreneur for being “shameless”. Also many Chinese Internet users called for the unblocking of Google.

Popular we-media Chapingjun - literally meaning a gentleman who makes only negative comments - posted a commentary online about Li's incident that has been forwarded by several Chinese news portals. Chapingjun emphasized in its post, “It is not that Chinese app users would choose to trade privacy for convenience but they have to.”

“After you've downloaded an app, you think you can say 'no'. That's not the case. If you refuse to share data, you gain no access to any of the app's functions,” wrote the commentary, citing AutoNavi Maps, also known as Gaode Maps, a Chinese web mapping and navigation services provider, as an example.

It's reported by the we-media that besides location information, users have to grant the mapping app right to access their album, multi-media and storage data, and even their phone calls and text messages before they could use any function of the software. AutoNavi Software Co., Ltd. was founded in 2001 in China and acquired by Alibaba Group in 2014.

Chapingjun complained the software has failed to indicate in its users' agreement how the data is collected, which parts are collected, for what purpose and in what ways the privacy of users could be protected.

Also responding to Li Yanhong's remarks, some netizens called for more public attention to the Wei Zexi incident in 2016. Wei was a 21-year old Chinese college student from Shaanxi who died after receiving an experimental treatment at the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps, which he learned of from a promoted result of Baidu. Baidu was exposed to have used search data for pushing ads.

Wei's death had led to an investigation by the cyberspace regulators in China who were prompted to impose new restrictions on the search engine's advertisements. Many Internet users and state media outlets in China denounced its unscrupulous advertising practices.

Apparently, many Chinese netizens believe Facebook CEO Zuckerberg to be a more dignified figure compared with the “shameless” Chinese tycoon. Recently, the Observer, a foreign media, exposed that the Trump presidential campaign had hired big data company Cambridge Analytic in 2016 to collect data of 50 million Facebook users without gaining their approval, in a bid to push political ads in more targeted ways.

The crisis stems from Facebook policies that allowed third-party app developers to extract personal data of its users and their friends. It's believed by many analysts the unauthorized online activity had played an instrumental role in Donald Trump's win. Following a five-day silence, it's reported by The Guardian on Monday that Zuckerberg announced Facebook will change how it shares data with third-party apps, and admitted they “made mistakes”.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” Zuckerberg wrote in his full-page apologizing ad. “Zuckerberg has apologized because he's got at least a sense of shame. But apparently, not everyone has that,” a netizen commented under news report about Li's controversial remarks.  


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