Massive database includes 16,000 Canadians . . .
A database leaked by a U.S. academic formerly based in China and Vietnam contains 2.4 million profiles of individuals from several countries including Canada, Australia, India, the U.S. and the U.K. The database, owned and collected by Chinese firm Zhenhua Data Information Technology, features information on more than 35,000 Australians and 16,000 Canadians and their family members, largely focusing on high-profile figures such as politicians, business executives, and military officers. While the database allegedly drew on sensitive information like bank records, Zhenhua was able to build it by scraping open-source data already available online such as social media profiles.
A business opportunity in surveillance . . .
Headed by a former IBM data management expert, Zhenhua has links to China's military and government through its clientele, employees, and corporate partners, and its office is in a government-backed business incubation complex in Shenzhen. Zhenhua, which translates as ‘China revival,’ claims to develop products to analyze mass amounts of online data and tools to manipulate content on social media platforms or chat applications like Twitter and WhatsApp. Data brokerage firms compiling similar databases are highly lucrative enterprises in an increasingly online world. However, Zhenhua stands out for several reasons, including its keen interest in high-profile individuals (ranked by their level of influence in the leaked database), its ambition to sell data and tools for military purposes, and its vision of leveraging social media manipulation as a tool to "weaken a country's administrative, social, military, or economic power."
Follows China’s ‘Global Initiative on Data Security’ . . .
The scandal broke days after China announced its own 'Global Initiative on Data Security' to establish Chinese-lead global standards on data governance and security. This new policy agenda opposes the use of data to undermine national security and calls on governments and tech firms to respect sovereignty, user privacy, and domestic data governance policies. Zhenhua's exploits are sure to undermine such efforts, adding to skepticism in Canada and affected countries. Although platforms like Facebook have banned Zhenhua for violating user terms and conditions, the damage has been done. It may be time for countries like Canada to look into data governance regulations beyond a single tech firm's user agreement. For the short term, raising awareness and educating consumers on managing their data online and proper security and privacy practices is a must.
- ABC News: China’s ‘hybrid war’: Beijing’s mass surveillance of Australia and the world for secrets and scandal
- The Globe and Mail: Chinese firm amasses trove of open-source data on influential Canadians
- The Guardian: Zhenhua data leak: personal details of millions around the world gathered by China tech company