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Chinese Ride-Hailing Company Didi Causes User Privacy Debate Among Netizens

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Didi is China’s leading vehicle-for-hire company, providing taxi-hailing, bike-sharing and on-demand delivery services. For its 500 million users, however, the transportation app, which has offered so much convenience during its nine years of life, is in jeopardy.

On Jul 4th, China’s Cyberspace Administration and Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission released a statement saying that Didi has been removed from all mobile app stores. “The Didi app has seriously breached the law and has been illegally collecting and using its users’ personal data,” the statement reads.

Chinese netizens reacted to the news with mixed feelings. Some suggested that the company should be forgiven, given its youth and the convenience that it offers. One Weibo user commented, “Please, let’s not be too harsh. Didi is still a relatively young company, and maturation takes time. Let’s give it one more chance.”

Another wrote, “Where I live, other taxi-hailing platforms are all unbearably slow. Only Didi can get you a cab in time.”

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Others reacted to the news with anger, with most netizens focusing on three issues: espionage, privacy and monopoly.

On Weibo and Zhihu, the majority of users accused Didi of potentially selling sensitive cartographic data to the US. The company wrapped up a huge US initial price offering at the end of June, raising 4.4 billion USD. However, per Chinese regulations, high-accuracy maps are classified documents, and Didi’s IPO in America is potentially a national security threat. The most recent post on Didi’s official Weibo account has been flooded with comments like “America’s watchdog” and “Get out of China.”

Other netizens pointed at Didi’s history of overpricing its services and exploiting its drivers. One blogger opined that netizens’ uniform lack of sympathy for the company originated from Didi’s record of monopolizing the transportation market. “Like other platforms,” this blogger wrote, “Didi exploits bilaterally, first its users (by overcharging them), then its drivers.”

He went on to explain how Didi’s algorithm evaluates how badly its drivers need money. “For those who desperately need money to raise a family,” he wrote, “Didi will give them the worst, least efficient trips to drive. Don’t want these trips? No problem. You need money, not us.”

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Perhaps most significantly, the conversation that this incident has caused also centers around the question of user privacy. As this Weibo user with 1.4 million followers wrote, “Indeed, big data can bring us convenience, but cybersecurity is also an important issue that should not be ignored.”

Other netizens echoed this user, but with more blunt emotions displayed. One Zhihu user wrote, “When punishing those selling users’ personal data, our nation needs to demonstrate the same valor and authority as when we were fighting corruption.”

Another user noted that Didi should not be the only app penalized for leaking users’ privacy. “By the same logic, even if you remove 99% of the apps from China’s app stores, there’ll still be apps that have stolen users’ personal information but face no punishment.”

“This is not the first time our privacy was infringed upon,” the user added, “Starting when you get a phone number, you need to register with your name; when you use all the apps, you need to connect your location and contacts…”

“There are companies selling such information everywhere,” the user lamented, “and there’s nothing you can do.”

Cover image via Unsplash

Tony Hao
Tony was born and raised in Beijing, but moved to Connecticut at age 15. An English major at Yale, he is interested in the societal issues, sports circles, and literary scenes of contemporary China.