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Telecom companies swear by user privacy

By Ma Si | China Daily | Updated: 2020-03-04 08:28
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A community worker in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, checks a resident's health code using a smart phone. The code is part of local efforts to use big data in the fight against novel coronavirus. [Photo by Dong Xuming/For China Daily]

Chinese technology companies using big data and analytics to bolster the epidemic fight are taking every care to comply with user data privacy laws.

Han Xia, an official at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the nation's top industry regulator, said China's laws and regulations highlight user privacy protection in data mining.

According to Han, when telecom carriers use data for analysis, they have to go through a sophisticated regulatory mechanism and must abide by China's laws and regulations.

They just use statistical data which are based on a large number of telecom network signals to track traffic flow among provinces and cities. The move is designed to help local governments predict possible spread directions of the epidemic and protect regions that are vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, Han said.

"There is only statistical analysis about an overall situation, and no specific personal information is involved," Han said, adding that all the identifying information is removed.

Also, concrete efforts have been made to ensure that companies only collect as less data as possible, in accordance with the principle of minimization, to help fight the epidemic. All the data are only allowed to be used for epidemic prevention, the ministry said.

China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom said they have adopted a string of anti-attack and anti-theft measures, such as deploying encryptors, leak-scanning systems, and database audit systems, during transmission and storage of the data.

Mai Yanzhou, deputy general manager of China Unicom, said the company always accords data security and user privacy top priority and has the technological prowess to engage in big data analysis on the prerequisite of protecting users' data privacy.

"We have a complicated management process in monitoring the use of big data analysis. Also, we have data security gateways, data traceability system, automated data encryption and other control measures in place," Mai said.

The country's telecom carriers have been working hard to assist local governments in epidemic prevention. On the prerequisite of safeguarding privacy, they leverage the data pool of China's billion-plus smartphone users to offer insights. As people travel to big cities to resume work amid the outbreak, telecom carriers can help monitor the traffic to help local governments take better precautionary measures.

Yu Rundong, an engineer at the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a government think tank, said currently, a number of technical measures can be taken to protect user privacy in data mining, such as de-identifying personal data, data cleansing, and employing sophisticated encryption mechanisms.




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