Chinese authorities clamp down on travel apps amid concerns over personal data

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China Railway (CR) has curbed Chinese travel apps’ access to train tickets, as the government looks to limit third-parties on its online ticketing platform following a series of recent data breaches.

CR said it has prevented the apps from using multiple IP addresses to access more railway tickets, Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported earlier this week.

Despite the limitation, users are still able to book tickets through the apps, which include platforms such as Alibaba’s Fliggy, Meituan Dianping, and Ctrip, among others.

The move comes after police arrested a 25-year-old suspect for allegedly accessing the personal data of 5 million passengers on third-party ticketing platforms. The detention followed rumors that CR’s official online ticketing platform 12306 suffered a massive data breach earlier this month. Government authorities immediately denied the claim.

Third-party ticketing services are especially popular around Spring Festival, as millions of people scramble to book tickets to return home and reunite with their families over the holiday season. The services claim that they can issue tickets faster than 12306. Somewhat inexplicably, the apps still need to connect to 12306 to book tickets.

CR told CCTV that it is impossible for users to get tickets faster through the third-party applications, even if they pay extra. In another announcement on microblogging platform Weibo on Tuesday morning, the countrys railway operator advised passengers to only buy tickets via qualified channels.

Users are generally drawn to features including 24-hour booking on apps like Ctrip, which are not offered on the railway operator’s online platform, as it closes between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. daily. The apps also provide a service to automatically search remaining tickets and grab them throughout the day, as some passengers and scalpers refund tickets.

According to state-owned China Youth Daily, the Chinese government will evaluate 1,000 apps, including ticket booking services, over the next 12 months. Chinas Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Public Security, as well as market regulators, will be involved in the national campaign.