China’s latest data theft case shows tracking a mobile phone costs less than $2 a month

In a case worth over RMB 800 million, numerous members of a syndicate have been arrested for allegedly buying and selling personal data over the internet, local media is reporting

The gang was able to obtain personal information by falsely identifying themselves and hacking targeted individuals. This information included mobile phone location and movement data, credit information, academic records, and phone call data.

According to the report, the group charged RMB 10 ($1.60) a month to track one mobile phone and RMB 1000 ($160) a month to track multiple targets.

The arrests form part of a bigger operation run by the Ministry of Public Security and the Public Security Department of Shandong Province. The investigation also focussed on individuals in Guangdong province, where the task force seized 90 mobile phones and arrested 41 people.

“I bought and sold delivery address and mobile phone owner information via the internet,” an arrestee surnamed Shi is quoted as saying.  “From December 2017 to the time I was arrested, I sold more than 300 pieces of information and earned $17,800.”

This is just the latest in a number of cases relating to the trade of personal information online. In December 2017, Beijing police announced they had busted a group of hackers who collected over one million pieces of personal information by taking advantage of network operators’ vulnerabilities.

In June of the same year, 22 people were arrested for allegedly stealing and selling iPhone user data.

The privacy of user data has become a hot topic in China. Its discussion was reignited after Baidu CEO Robin Li said Chinese internet users “are not that sensitive about privacy”. The resulting backlash caused a reporter from the Beijing News to conduct a privacy test on some of the country’s most popular apps, finding that they did not adequately protect users’ data.

Li’s comments came shortly after Baidu was accused of illegally obtaining user data by the Jiangsu Consumer Council. The company responded saying they have addressed the council’s concerns.

On April 4, an exhibition containing the purchased personal information of over 300,000 individuals opened in Hebei province. The artist bought the data and displayed it hoping to highlight the ease with which personal information can be obtained online. The exhibition was shut down shortly after opening.