Regulators hammer Didi for illegal biometric data collection, let top execs off easy
China regulators have fined ridesharing giant Didi Global a significant sum, saying the company illegally harvested the facial recognition data of passengers.
The Cyberspace Administration of China says it levied an 8 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) fine, equal to 4.4 percent of Didi’s 2021 revenues. (Didi’s chairman and president were fined a considerably smaller $148,000 each.)
If the size of the shareholder penalty surprises, few could have been surprised that something punishing was coming.
Didi co-founder Bob Zhang Bo quit as the company’s chairman of payment operations in January (but has remained chief technology officer) as a result of the government’s investigation into mishandled data. The company was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because of the scandal.
Beijing’s investigation ended when it found that the company had broken network-security, data-security and personal data-protection laws, according to The Washington Post.
The Post reports that, beginning in 2015, 12 million screenshots and 107 million facial recognition data points were illegally collected. More than 167 million location and other data points also were harvested.
The autocratic government likely was motivated to swing such a big stick because it cannot afford for its citizens to lose faith in its unprecedented state-controlled digital surveillance infrastructure.
However, regulators also found that Didi also had created serious national security problems, the Post has reported.
It is no coincidence that China’s first law protecting personal information was enacted last fall.
Not-for-profit international privacy community International Association of Privacy Professionals has compared China’s law to the European Union’s groundbreaking General Data Protection Regulation.
The organization predicted with some accuracy that the law would lead to increased attention on data security, sovereignty and personal information rights and would reshape how companies in China do business.