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China's flags are seen near a TikTok logo (REUTERS)
China's flags are seen near a TikTok logo (REUTERS)

China’s smoke and mirrors on data security

  • Beijing’s new avowals of data protection need to be dismissed for what they are: feeble attempts to allay concerns over the espionage its companies’ apps and other software could be put to

China’s Tuesday announcement of a global data security initiative seems designed to assuage concerns of Beijing’s prying eyes. It’s not just India that has suspicions of domestic data mopped up by Chinese apps, online services and tech firms serving as an espionage system for the country. For a while now, the US has had under its scanner both Huawei, a telecom equipment maker, and TikTok, a blisteringly popular app for snappy video clips. America has a “clean network program" that aims to shield citizens from privacy intrusions.

China has been on the defensive, but what does its avowal of data integrity amount to? In a reconciliatory statement, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi seemed to acknowledge that cyber security breaches could compromise a country’s national security, as also personal rights and the public interest. Yi also said that Beijing would call on tech companies not to install “backdoors in their products and services to illegally obtain users’ data"; nor should they “control or manipulate users’ systems and devices".

This sounds hollow. It’s well known that the so-called People’s Republic is run by an authoritarian regime. It has displayed little patience for the privacy of its own citizens, who are digitally watched and tracked as if they were prison inmates. Nor does the regime give its businesses the requisite freedom to serve consumer interests alone. Wang Yi’s declaration seems like nothing but a ploy to retain overseas markets that Chinese companies could soon lose. Specifically, it seems aimed at relieving pressure imposed by the US on TikTok to sell out to local investors. Recently, China made it mandatory for the app’s current owner ByteDance to get Beijing’s nod for any such deal. Only the naïve would take the regime’s data security pledges at face value.

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