Fake work attendance app for Alibaba’s office tool DingTalk lands developer in prison for five-and-a-half years

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The chief executive of a Beijing-based app developer was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for helping tens of thousands of users fabricate attendance records on enterprise collaboration platforms, according to an April court verdict published last month.

The People’s Court of Haidian District in Beijing ruled that Zhang Chaojie, whose company operated apps that faked location, Wi-Fi and photo data, was convicted of “sabotaging computer systems”.

Among the several apps offered by four-year-old Beijing Deniu Technology was its flagship product called Daniu Zhushou, which allowed users to cheat Alibaba Group Holding’s DingTalk. The widely-used office software requires employees to clock in within a set location range or while on office Wi-Fi to prove attendance.

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By the time Daniu Zhushou was removed from app stores, it had been downloaded more than 100,000 times. Using the app required a subscription of 25 yuan (US$3.9) per month or 89 yuan per year, after a 12-hour free trial, allowing the app to pull in 4 million to 5 million yuan in total revenue, according to the published verdict.

A product manager for the app developer, a witness surnamed Zhao who offered testimony, said the location spoofing apps could also be used with Tencent HoldingsWeChat and JD.com’s on-demand household service app Wang Shifu.

Zhang and his lawyer argued that the app was not meant to cheat DingTalk and did more than just GPS location spoofing. They also said it only helped “certain employees show up late or get off early, which isn’t very serious”, according to the verdict.

DingTalk is one of China’s dominant enterprise collaboration tools. Similar to rivals such as Tencent’s WeCom and ByteDance’s Feishu, it allows colleagues to sync documents and team leaders to virtually manage staff attendance and reimbursements. DingTalk has 500 million users across 19 million organisations, according to its official website.

Office apps exploded in use during the Covid-19 pandemic, as people were forced to work remotely. This year, employees have largely returned to office work in China, which has maintained strict quarantine rules and border controls to manage the spread of the virus.

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