Chinese police have arrested a man for allegedly providing location tracking services to debt collectors, a novel case in which location-based mobile technologies were used to violate personal privacy.

Internet police from the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu arrested the 30-year-old man surnamed Wu, from China’s western Qinghai province, in March 2018. The incident was only made public by police in January and picked up by Chinese media this week.

The arrest followed complaints by a businessman surnamed Chen, who reported an incident in which he was tracked by debt collectors to Jiangsu police, according to state-owned radio broadcaster China National Radio (CNR). Wu, the apps’ creator, pleaded guilty to developing the location tracking platform dubbed “App Detective,” which could illegally access a number of online messaging platforms to provide real-time location tracking services.

According to police officers who tried out the platform in Jiangsu’s capital Nanjing, the app’s margin of error was “only between 20 and 50 meters,” reported CNR. App Detective had been covertly up for sale in chat groups on popular messaging platforms WeChat and QQ for two years, attracting over 4,000 registered users. It made a turnover of RMB 400,000 (around $60,000), Nanjing police said.

Chinese authorities have clamped down on a variety of mobile internet services. The move has included a nationwide campaign aiming to “clean up” the country’s cyberspace. In Jiangsu, police have arrested almost 3,000 suspects for violations of private information.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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