How much do Chinese netizens care about data privacy?

China has long been considered as a place where online privacy is nearly nonexistent but various signs show that Chinese netizens’ awareness of privacy-related issues is increasing. Most talks on user privacy so far look at the concept broadly, however, with delving into specifics on how Chinese people approach the problem in practice and attitude.

Tencent’s research arm Penguin Intelligence released a report (in Chinese) to shed light on this complicated issue. Here is how Chinese netizens responded to the issue of data leaks:

  • 35% of the 1,285 interviewed users show constant concerns over data leakage
  • a majority of 60.6% worries about the problem occasionally
  • 4% don’t care about it at all

Data leaks by various sites and platforms proved to be the top source of users’ concerns, followed by malpractice of employees and hacker attacks.

To some extent, users’ concerns are not groundless given the past practices of Chinese tech giants. Baidu CEO Robin Li landed himself in hot water earlier this year for claims that Chinese internet users would trade privacy for convenience and efficiency. Other popular apps like Alipay and WeChat were also hit by similar public outcries for accessing user data without consent.

Chinese care more about data privacy than you think, but they still need better protection

Password complexity is another example that shows how much people care about their privacy. The report shows around half (50.8%) of the interviewed netizens use a few passwords for most of their accounts. Overall 14% of them go with the extreme practice of using the same password on every site or service they access.

Around 58.9% of the users would change their password if they discover that a platform is leaking data but only 41.1% would consider changing the password for platforms that use the same or a similar password.

China’s younger generations tend to have more trust in online platforms for hosting personal data. But a hard copy file is still the most trusted way of saving such data according to over 40% interviewees. The finding is not surprising considering that one Tencent Cloud user recently sued the company for $1.6 million for damage on file metadata caused by bugs in the firmware.

During mandatory site and app registrations, Chinese netizens tend to be cautious about giving out their real identity and information such as bank account, ID card, and address. They feel more secure in giving their birthday, gender, and the name of the province they live in.

If the option is provided, 88.1% of Chinese online users choose to log in via third-party accounts such as QQ, WeChat, and Weibo because of the extra layer of security protection. In other cases, they prefer mobile phone over email registration for a faster and more convenient service.