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Baidu chief under fire for privacy comments

(    08:33, March 28, 2018

Baidu founder Robin Li has triggered an online uproar after suggesting Chinese people are happy to give up their data privacy for online convenience or efficiency under many circumstances.

"We're very aware of the privacy issue, including data protection. Over the past few years, China has also become increasingly aware of this problem, and has been enforcing relevant laws and regulations, during the process of which, I think that the Chinese people are more open, or not so sensitive, about the privacy issue. If they are able to exchange privacy for convenience or efficiency, they are willing to do so in many cases," said Li while giving his view on the use of personal data at the China Development Forum Monday in Beijing.

Baidu founder Robin Li (Right), alongside Dominic Barton, global managing partner of consultancy McKinsey & Co, attending the China Development Forum in Beijing, March 26, 2018. [Photo: VCG]

Baidu founder Robin Li (Right), alongside Dominic Barton, global managing partner of consultancy McKinsey &Co, attending the China Development Forum in Beijing, March 26, 2018. [Photo: VCG]

In the previous part of his comment, the CEO agreed that 80 percent of useful data "lies in the hands of enterprises," and says he believed "if more of that data can be put together, our capacity to achieve more will rise exponentially."

Li's views have set off a heated online discussion, with negative or hostile comments constituting the majority attitude of those on Sina Weibo.

Some say they doubt the credibility of Li's views.

"Who told you we are willing to give up our data?" "Who gave you the right to speak for (common) Chinese (internet users)?" asked one netizen, with some simply responded "I am not willing."

Others have criticized Li's comments as "shameless," "cheeky" and "despicable."

"It is a great sorrow that such a person is regarded as a key opinion leader in his industry," or "typical of Baidu acting with pride rather than a sense of shame (when it comes to) trampling on people's private information."

And even others expressed a sense of helplessness in protecting online privacy.

"Nonsense, it's more accurate to say (it is) impossible to defend (our privacy) effectively (rather than saying we are willing to give it up)," read a top-rated comment, followed by another one arguing that no complaint method is available for our data.

However, industry insiders are suggesting Li's comments reflect the current trend in China's Internet industry.

"I think Li's words are quite honest, expressing what most companies are reluctant to say in a public forum," said Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based industry analyst.

Jia Rui, an investment manager focused on the big data industry, says that Li's comments refer to a trend of more and more users offering their data by ticking the "agree" button before using an app or program.

"That doesn't mean users do not care about privacy or that the company can use the data however it wants. On the contrary, data protection is the most important thing for companies and the industry regulator," Jia told the Global Times Monday.

Baidu has long faced allegations of poor privacy protections or excessive data collection practices.

In January this year, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a warning to Baidu, urging the firm to do more to protect its users personal information.

CGTN and Global Times contributed to this story.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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