On the night of August 18, a tweet posted on social media by the user named “Bian Xiang” was shared thousands of times in a few hours. It accused Chinese tech giant Baidu of invading user privacy by using the Baidu manual network disk reviewer to open the contents of the user’s drive.
Before long, more people joined the complaint as witnesses. Although the company’s spokesmen denied this complaint, the information ignited like wildfire.
It’s not the first time Baidu has been accused of spying on its users. In 2013, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Japanese writing application for Windows sent information to Baidu’s servers putting its users’ sensitive data at risk when typing. Later the NHK TV channel did the same, adding that it also happened with the writing tool for Android Simeji.
The Chinese online media NZDS TECH also reported loopholes in Baidu’s network disk sharing function, which allowed private information to be leaked.
Baidu, headquartered in Beijing, is a Chinese multinational specializing in Internet and Artificial Intelligence services and products. Why would they be interested in getting its users’ information?
Information is more valuable than gold
There have been many lawsuits against Big Tech for theft and illegal use of information obtained from its customers.
Among the best-known cases are the numerous complaints against Facebook. According to Business Insider, after an investigation opened in 2019 by the New York Attorney General, the American tech giant admitted it had unintentionally uploaded the contact address books of 1.5 million users since 2016 when asking them to confirm their email addresses.
According to EuroNews, Tiktok was accused last year of exploiting European users’ rights and data, especially young users. The complaint was filed by The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC).
The New York Post published Brendan Carr‘s open letter asking Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores.
On June 28, Brendan Carr, Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Communication Commission, tweeted, “TikTok is not just another video app. That’s the sheep’s clothing.”
In the open letter, he wrote, “It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data.”
He added that this app works as a surveillance tool, saying, “Indeed, TikTok collects everything from search and browsing histories to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers, including faceprints…and voiceprints.”
According to ISPI, the power they get with our personal information is immense. Not only obtaining profits with personalized advertising, but the individual profile formed from our tastes, hobbies, behavior patterns, physical characteristics are data that any government would like as a tool to suppress social discontent or to increase government control over the population.
It is the era of “surveillance capitalism” explains Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School.
China is the best example of how this surveillance is implemented.
Some thirty large Chinese technology companies, including Alibaba, owner of Tik Tok, asByteDance, and Tencent, besides Baidu, have ceded their algorithm to the Chinese Government. These algorithms are responsible for memorizing people’s tastes and tendencies.
Baidu goes a step further, allowing it to assess whether the content published is “risky” and helps the company decide whether to censor or not. This is possible due to the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the processing of large amounts of data (Big Data).
China has become the world leader in the field. And also in its use with the population.
The continuous control of its inhabitants through security cameras, facial recognition programs, spyware and location programs to control mobile phones or the “social credit system” for scoring citizens allow the Chinese communist regime to determine who is a threat to its Government.
With the use of AI, the Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) has been created, a regional data system that monitors the thousands of checkpoints and cameras in cities. The system uses a social recognition program to detect the ethnicity to which a person belongs and, for example, alert the police about the movement of a person of Uighur origin.
Practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong have also been victims of this surveillance system. Since the discipline started to be persecuted in China in 1999, the CCP has used its technology to track the movements on the street and on social media in an effort to crush its Followers.
Falun Gong is perhaps the best example of peaceful resistance against a totalitarian regime. To escape the digital encirclement, practitioners have used various forms including programs to bypass China’s Great Firewall—a censorship system that prevents Chinese citizens from accessing free information. This way, people can learn the truth about the illegal persecution they suffer.
Largely thanks to his efforts to expose the atrocities committed by the regime, a worldwide movement to quit the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was born under the name of Tuidang, which advocates for freedom of expression and belief.
SO far, more than 400 million people have withdrawn their membership and quit the CCP since the start of this Tuidang campaign in 2004. A more than worrying reason for the country’s authorities and an excuse to double down on the use of these new technologies.