Microsoft’s Office apps called out by Beijing in latest crackdown on user data privacy violations

·3-min read

China has called out 291 smartphone apps, including those under Microsoft’s popular Office suite, for misleading or infringing on user privacy, as regulatory authorities intensified the crackdown on how tech companies collect data.

Software giant Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint were among the apps that made mandatory, frequent or excessive requests for user permissions, according to a notice posted on the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) website on Tuesday.

The MIIT also found recruitment app 51Job, tech news app 36Kr and note-taking app Yinxiang Biji, the Chinese version of Evernote, to have violated existing regulations in the collection of user data. Another recruitment app, Zhaopin, was cited for misleading users to download applications.

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The ministry has asked third-party testing organisations to review mobile apps that have been the focus of user complaints, according to a statement on its website. It said 83 apps – from the targeted categories of productivity, education, mobility, job recruitment and fitness – failed to rectify their violations.

Microsoft Office is seen at the top of a smartphone user’s list of apps. Photo: Ben Sin
Microsoft Office is seen at the top of a smartphone user’s list of apps. Photo: Ben Sin

Six provincial communications administrations, including those in Shanghai as well as Guangdong and Sichuan provinces, carried out similar tests and found 208 apps in violation, according to the MIIT.

Apart from banking and airline apps, Lilith Games’ Rise of Kingdoms and Furious Wings from Yoozoo Games were also cited by the MIIT for violating data collection rules. The ministry said these apps were ordered to rectify their violations by June 16, and those who failed to meet the deadline will face further actions.

The ministry’s latest move also clamped down on apps with pop-up notifications that could not be closed, as well as those misleading users to jump to new pages through texts, pictures and videos, according to the statement.

The scrutiny on this batch of apps comes after new regulations from the MIIT came into effect on May 1. The regulations, first announced in March, hold application providers accountable for collecting what it calls “excessive” user data unrelated to their core services, and forcing users to give uninformed consent to how their data is used.

China makes it harder for Big Tech to collect personal information from users

The regulations on necessary personal information for mobile internet applications covers the basic functions and services for 39 app categories, including messaging, online shopping, payments, ride hailing, short video, live streaming and mobile games.

Beijing has been working to stamp out personal privacy breaches in the world’s largest internet market, with about 1 billion users. The government last year drafted the Personal Information Protection Law, which sets fines of up to 50 million yuan (US$7.7 million), or 5 per cent of a company’s annual revenue, for such offences.

The scrutiny on data privacy is part of a wider crackdown on China’s biggest tech companies, with tightened control over their business practices, including a record 18.2 billion yuan fine imposed on e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding in early April for monopolistic behaviour. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

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