Recent news reports reveal that the official websites of several universities in northeast China's Jilin and central China's Hubei and Hunan Provinces have leaked the personal information of their students. This news comes in the wider context that even some local governments are being accused of extensively leaking their citizens' private information.
In most of these cases the leaks took place unknowingly, a result of negligence on the part of local authorities and organizations. A detailed report is now necessary on how to improve supervision by relevant authorities. The leaks are not being classified as a technical failure, and are currently being treated as a consequence of poor knowledge and a general misunderstanding of privacy awareness.
Internet users in China are largely unaware of the risks inherent in making private information available online, and many are even willing to exchange personal information for the services of certain websites. In some cases these decisions can lead to economic loss. When public departments unwittingly leak citizens' private information, such as ID numbers, basic living allowance and affordable housing allocation, the information can be appropriated by criminals for illegal gain at the expense of the affected individuals. According to the Internet Society of China, the economic losses stemming from this kind of information fraud caused by personal information leaks reached 91.5 billion yuan in 2016.
With electronic payment growing rapidly, the risk of privacy leaks and the scale of the resulting harm is set to rise. Public departments must take the lead to raise awareness of privacy protection.
(This is an edited excerpt of an article published in Guangming Daily on November 27)