Wed, Mar 06, 2019 - Page 1 News List

PTT creator warns against Chinese apps, hardware

Staff writer, with CNA

Ethan Tu, creator of the Professional Technology Temple (PTT) online bulletin board, is pictured on July 20, 2017.

Photo: Liu Hsin-de, Taipei Times

Ethan Tu (杜奕瑾), creator of the Professional Technology Temple (PTT) online bulletin board, on Monday warned the public against using Chinese apps and hardware, which he said could be used to collect users’ personal information without their consent.

Citing an article published on Friday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation about a series of data leaks at several Chinese firms, Tu wrote on Facebook that the people who built the compromised databases either lacked knowledge of cybersecurity or did not value it.

Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseNets Technology Ltd (中國深網視科技), which develops video-based crowd analysis and facial recognition technology, was last month found to have left its facial recognition database exposed for at least six months.

Two more databases were since found to have been breached, affecting 364 million users, Tu said.

The leaked information includes identification numbers, nationalities, telephone numbers, dates of birth, home addresses, facial recognition and location data, and chat and traffic violation records, he said, adding that people can freely download and modify the information.

“Were they exposed so that China’s national security departments can thoroughly study them?” Tu asked.

While it is difficult to make a database that incorporates private and public systems 100 percent safe, the exposed databases had zero protection and no password protection, he said.

It proves that the Chinese government has been collecting real-time information via apps such as WeChat (微信), QQ and Aliwangwang (阿里旺旺), as well as Apple Inc’s messaging platform, he said.

The information can be automatically collected by China’s state surveillance system without users’ consent, he added.

“The best way to protect yourself is to choose online platforms and hardware from trustworthy providers and partners,” Tu said.

For example, when using an Apple smartphone for the first time, avoid setting your location as China to prevent personal information from being shared with the Chinese surveillance system, he said.

People should also avoid using any apps, Internet services or hardware from Chinese providers, Tu said.

While any company could gather its customers’ personal information, in the West, companies that are found to have done so in unethical ways would be punished by the market, but Chinese companies do not face such consequences, he said.

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