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The office of Shanghai Roadway D&B Marketing Services Co has been closed since accusations of illegally obtaining and trading of personal data emerged. [Photo / Provided to China Daily]
Dun & Bradstreet Corp, a US commercial information company, said on Monday that its employees in China may have violated the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other laws in its China operations, and it has suspended operations at its Shanghai units pending investigations.
D&B said it has been reviewing allegations that data collection practices at its Shanghai unit, Shanghai Roadway D&B Marketing Services Co, which it acquired in 2009, might also violate Chinese laws, according to the company's announcement.
The announcement said the Shanghai unit had approximately $23 million in revenue and $2 million in operating income.
The company did not give specific details of the allegations. However, the announcement said the company is cooperating with the Chinese investigation and that it has voluntarily reported these matters to the US Department of Justice and the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Shanghai police said on March 16 that they questioned three senior executives and confiscated several computer servers and hard drives at the local unit's headquarters on March 15, and they are still looking into the case, according to Xinhua News Agency.
On March 15, a report that Shanghai Roadway was under suspicion of illegally obtaining and trading individuals' personal data was broadcast on China Central Television in a program about consumer rights.
The company obtained private information about individuals including income levels, job titles, phone numbers and addresses from banks, insurance companies, real estate agents and cold-call companies, and this information was sold to marketing and telemarketing companies, according to the CCTV report.
The report said the company's promotional material claimed that it had 150 million files of accurate personal data on middle- and high-end consumers.
The sale of personal data was classified as a crime under China's Criminal Law in 2009 with application of The Amendment to the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China (VII).
Selling or illegally providing personal data to third parties could lead to three years of imprisonment under the law.
D&B said it had apologized to the public in China for any concerns about the use of personal data and it was committed to fully resolving these matters.
An insider with an investment consultancy firm in Pudong who spoke on condition of anonymity said trading the personal data of customers is a common practice in banking, commercial consultancy and real estate circles.
"When my company buys information packages from a seller, it sells the packages to another company for the same sum of money, and sometimes partners, such as a stock agent and a wealth manager, or an investment consultant and a real estate property agent, may exchange and share customers' personal data," said the insider.
Shanghai Roadway D&B Marketing Services is not the only seller of personal data, said the insider.
"Suspending the operation of one company will not reduce cold calls, because the data have already been leaked and will be recycled for a long time," said the insider.
Phone calls to Shanghai Roadway D&B Marketing Services were unanswered at 5 pm on Monday. The company's official website, www.roadwaydnb.com, was not accessible on Monday.