Chinese Tech Firm To Users: We May Hand Over Your Data to the Government

by Jonathan Adams

Tech companies tend to wiggle when asked what happens to users’ data in China. But one company isn’t mincing words.

Some mobile users have marked that when downloading Chinese tech company Smartisan’s “Smiling Cloud” cloud storage app, the first thing that pops up is an English-language advisory.

The headline is, “Warning.”

Smartisan reminds you, the company may have to disclose uploaded information “to governmental departments of China at their request due to Chinese law.

The message reads, “Excepting under such conditions, Smartisan will never disclose or lend out your information”.

It’s no secret that tech companies must hand over data to Chinese authorities when requested, as well as censor content and comply with other information restrictions. It’s just unusual for a company to spell it out so clearly. Many companies shy from the subject or simply say they comply with Chinese law, when pressed for response.

“With this notification, we only wished to inform customers in a normal transparent fashion,” a Smartisan spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “There wasn’t any special reason for it.”

Smartisan is a Xiaomi-like start-up that sells hip “Hammer” brand smartphones in China.

China’s data laws have drawn attention in Apple’s battle against the FBI. U.S. government lawyers claimed Apple was being hypocritical for allegedly helping Beijing access customers’ phone data while refusing to help the FBI. Apple was angry in response and denied the allegations, terming them “ridiculous” and “desperate,” and maintained that the company has never given any government special access to data.

Legal experts say that Chinese authorities have more power to obtain data from companies than do governments in countries with stronger rule of law, such as the U.S.

Some top Chinese tech companies such as Tencent and Xiaomi have set up overseas servers for their international customers to help allay fears that Beijing can access user data. Xiaomi also changed its cloud service from opt-out to opt-in in 2014 after reports that the company’s devices were sending data to servers in Beijing when not in use.

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