Alipay is to deactivate accounts that are not used for 12 months but has had to clarify which accounts will be affected, and how, after a backlash from users. Use of resources and user privacy are the reasons given, although non-banking payment providers were required to stop people from having multiple accounts last year.

The change is due to come into effect from September 22. Any users who don’t use or verify their Alipay account for 12 consecutive months will have their account or membership number deactivated. However, after announcing this in a change to the user agreement on Wednesday, there was plenty of criticism online by users.

The payments provider has now clarified that accounts with money in it or other services connected to it will not be closed. Accounts will be deactivated and can be reactivated in future.

Alipay, China’s largest online payment provider, has over 450 million registered users, many of whom use other products linked to their account. Over 100 million use a credit facility called Huabei or “Just Spend” (花呗) which allows users to spend up to RMB 1,000 on credit per month. Alipay has now announced that any account which has other services linked to it, such as Yu’ebao and Jifenbao, will not be deactivated no matter how long the account remains unused.

The reasons given for the change in conditions was to free up the system’s resources and improve the protection of customer data. People have multiple accounts which they activated via different mobile phone numbers and may not be aware of an account being hacked. However, as of December 1, 2016, any non-banking payment organizations in China must ensure that an individual only has one account with them. The onus is on providers such as Alipay to notify users of multiple accounts of any closures or mergers.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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