The powerful Chinese internet regulator works his muscles with the Didi probe

BEIJING, July 8 (Reuters) – The Chinese internet watchdog, which stunned investors with an investigation into Didi Global (DIDI.N) two days after the New York giant’s stock market debut, is at foreground of Beijing’s considerable efforts to master its technology sector and strengthen data security efforts.

The Chinese Cyberspace Administration (CAC), created in its current form in 2014 by President Xi Jinping, implements online censorship that has grown significantly under his tenure. The agency defends Beijing’s “Internet sovereignty” policy that keeps China’s huge online ecosystem behind the country’s great firewall.

Its action against Didi and two other companies that recently went public in the United States was quickly followed by Beijing’s announcement that it will crack down on Chinese companies traded abroad – many of which are state-listed technology companies. United – including by strengthening the regulation of cross-border transactions. data flow and security.

Rogier Creemers, assistant professor of Chinese studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said that in China, as elsewhere, there is growing mistrust of the power and influence of big technologies.

“So we’re at a point where the stars are aligned for action to be taken against these companies, and then it’s all happening almost at the same time from all of these different angles,” he said, referring to the actions of various regulatory bodies.

The CAC decision follows high-profile investigations and sanctions imposed on “platform economy” companies since late last year by various regulators, in particular the competition watchdog increasingly active of the country, the State Administration for Market Regulation.

The CAC, Creemers said, affirms its cybersecurity mandate.

“Is it a matter of turf or of substance? It’s about both,” he said.

The ACC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Accusing Didi of illegally collecting users’ personal data, the CAC demanded that Didi stop accepting new users in China, claiming that Didi’s application “involves serious violations of laws and regulations relating to the collection of personal informations”. Read more

Asked about recent CAC action, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said authorities manage and carry out security checks on internet platforms to mitigate risk and protect national security.

“China’s policy remains unchanged. We continue to open up and support the development of Internet platforms, and we will continue to encourage Chinese enterprises to engage in international trade and cooperation,” he said.

POWERFUL AND BUSY

With regulatory actions and frequent warnings, the CAC is weighing heavily on China’s sprawling internet.

His WeChat public account includes descriptions of events and speeches, announcements of execution measures and, like those of other party and state organs, propaganda extolling the virtues of Xi and the Communist Party in the past. power.

This week, WeChat removed dozens of LGBT accounts run by college students, claiming some had broken the rules, a move that followed a CAC pledge to clean up the internet to protect minors and crack down on social media groups under consideration. as a “bad influence”. Read more

In April, the agency launched a hotline to report online comments defaming the Communist Party and its history, promising to crack down on “historical nihilists” – those who spread information that undermines sanctioned narratives – before the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party. left on July 1st. read more

In more common measures, it joined other regulators in April to issue guidelines dictating how apps should protect users’ privacy and personal information. In January, he solicited public opinion to update the old rules regarding online payments, purchases and live streaming platforms.

In 2019, Reuters reported that financial news provider Refinitiv, the news service’s biggest client, blocked Reuters’ politically sensitive stories of its financial clients in China, under threat from the CAC to shut down its service.

In recent years, the ACC has also overseen the removal of tens of thousands of news, social media, and game apps from Apple’s Chinese app store and other local services.

COLORFUL STORY

The CAC’s early years were defined by its swaggering boss Lu Wei, who oversaw the establishment of the annual World Internet Conference in China, which drew global tech titans like Apple’s Tim Cook and the Google chief Sundar Pichai in the eastern tourist town of Wuzhen.

The 2014 inaugural event was pushed back by foreign tech companies when organizers sought agreement on a last-minute declaration on “Internet sovereignty.” Industry representatives ultimately refused to sign the pledge.

Lu traveled to Silicon Valley that year, where he was greeted at Facebook headquarters in Mandarin by founder Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook, like most of the major foreign social networks and news sites, was then and remains blocked by the Great Firewall.

Lu, who abruptly quit in 2016, was expelled from the Communist Party in 2018 and jailed in 2019 for 14 years for accepting bribes worth nearly $ 5 million, one of the most senior officials involved in Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign.

The ACC has been headed since 2018 by Zhuang Rongwen, vice-minister of the Central Department of Propaganda in China. He attends Wuzhen’s Internet conference but, like most senior Chinese officials, tends to avoid the spotlight.

Reporting by Tony Munroe; Additional reports by Cate Cadell; Editing by William Mallard

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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