Starting this week, TechNode is launching a new open resource. The “Techlash Tracker” is a database of major regulatory moves involving big tech in China, an open-source project to help make sense of a major trend defining China tech this year. 

The tracker is a regularly and openly available updated set of spreadsheets, built in Airtable, recording events. Click here to view. 

We invite anyone interested in China tech to use this resource for analysis, and to contribute to it.

Something is happening here, but we don’t know what it is

In China tech, the word of the year is “antitrust.” Alibaba was fined a record-breaking $2.8 billion for “forced exclusivity” and other anti-competitive practices, while Meituan faces a probe by market regulators over the same practices. Tencent, Didi, and Baidu—to name only a few—have been fined lesser amounts for failing to submit M&A deals for review.

Or is it “de-risking”? The IPO of fintech pioneer Ant Group, slated to be the world’s largest, was abruptly axed late last year as regulators prepared a series of changes to its operations. JD Digits, a competitor, withdrew its IPO application voluntarily in the wake of the fiasco. This week, 11 other tech majors were summoned to Beijing to discuss changes to their fintech operations.

Some say it’s all about data. Beijing has moved in the past year to recognize the strategic importance of this resource, which it has called ”the new oil,” and hopes to prevent tech companies using walled gardens to monopolize access to it.

Related to data, the list continues: consumer rights, privacy, cybersecurity.

We can see the trend: Big tech is being regulated as never before. At TechNode, we’re seeing a big trend, and we’ve been wondering how to understand it—and what to call it.

It’s tempting to see it as the local vector of a so-called global “techlash” that embraces everything from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to US Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Or maybe it’s just “Jacklash”: both Alibaba and Ant were founded by Jack Ma, a flamboyant billionaire who annoyed regulators when he dismissed banking authorities as “old men” in a speech last year, and some commentators have interpreted many recent moves as personal attacks on him. But then, how to explain the broadening scope of the investigations?

Just make a list

When we don’t know where to start with a topic, we often approach it by just making a list. In our new “Techlash Tracker,” we aim to make a database of key events in big tech regulation. We plan to include enforcement actions, fines, and announcements of new laws and regulations. We will track private antitrust lawsuits in another sheet.

We’ve chosen an intentionally vague name, “techlash,” rather than “antitrust” or “crackdown,” to indicate uncertainty about an interpretation. 

The tracker is intended as a living document: we aim to update the list at least once a week with new events, if applicable. We’ll also continue to dig through our archives to add more previous events, and plan to create some visualizations to help understand the material as the list grows.

The material here is also a bit raw. Expect to see it in more digestible forms in our reporting in the coming months as well as, we hope, in the work of our friends and colleagues.

An open resource

The Techlash Tracker is an open resource. In addition to making it free to use, we invite other analysts to use the data we’ve collected (but please do credit us if so). We’re also counting on our readers to help us catch events. Click here to submit more events for the tracker if you see something we’ve missed.

Thanks for your support, and we hope you’ll find the tracker useful!

Your techno-friends,

The TechNode team

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is TechNode's feature editor. You can contact him at shengwei [at] technode [dot] com.

Chris Udemans

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

David Cohen

David Cohen is a former acting editor in chief at TechNode. Since 2010, he has covered China as a writer and editor at outlets including the Diplomat, the Jamestown Foundation, and China Policy. He’s...