ChinAI Newsletter #16: AI and Privacy in China: There's a lot happening and it's complicated

Welcome to the ChinAI Newsletter!

These are Jeff Ding's weekly translations of writings on AI policy and strategy from Chinese thinkers. I'll also include general links to all things at the intersection of China and AI. Please share the subscription link if you think this stuff is cool. Here's an archive of all past issues. *Subscribers are welcome to share excerpts from these translations as long as my original translation is cited.

I'm a grad student at the University of Oxford where I'm the China lead for the Governance of AI Program, Future of Humanity Institute.

Very Interesting Annual Report on Privacy from a Think Tank to Watch

First off, have had some people asking about the sharing policy on translations. I'm a little unsure about copyright issues for full translations so for now the policy is: *Subscribers are welcome to share excerpts from these translations as long as my original translation is cited. Open to any feedback/advice on this.

"There's a lot happening and it's complicated" could be the subtitle for any China-related theme, but the topic of this week's newsletter is privacy. 

One good way to cut through the noise is to look at annual reports, which give you the context of a year's worth of incidents and also allow for comparison across years. The Nandu Personal Information Protection Research Center, which concentrates on Internet privacy policies, released an annual report for 2017 based on assessments of 1550 websites and apps for the transparency of their privacy policies.

Key takeaways:
- On September 24th, 2017, Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and other 3 national ministries and commissions jointly released the assessment result of the privacy policies of the first ten leading Internet products and services, including WeChat, Sina Weibo,, Baidu Maps, and Ctrip. This is the first time there was a special initiative for privacy policy at the ministry level. All ten products and services have revised their privacy policies successively during the assessment.
- One of the improvements Baidu made: turned key information in the privacy policy into an animation and used anthropomorphic images to explain its privacy terms in a story-telling manner.
- Majority of products assessed had relatively low or low transparency (about 81%). There are still 17 services that had no privacy policy at all ( For example, in the recruitment industry: some services with high popularity were rated in the “Relatively Low” level;, Liepin and Ganji are at the bottom.
- Within the 1550 services assessed by PIPRC, 252 were assessed twice while some of them revised their privacy policies. However, only 18 of the services' policy transparency demonstrated noticeable improvement

Translation of the annual report, which is worth a full read, is by the Research Alliance for Data Governance and Cyber Security, which is a cool platform for experts to discuss, formulate and propose policy solutions to common challenges in data governance and cyber security. The Mandarin version they translated can be found here.

Annual Report on Transparency of Privacy Policies

Checking the temperature on Privacy Discussions in Popular/General Audience Circles

Second article is not so much a deep dive (if you're looking for more detailed, technical conversations about privacy check out the White Paper on AI Standardization, linked below) but more of a thermometer of sorts for what the conversation about privacy looks like. The article, titled "Is AI the Natural Enemy of Privacy" is from a science reporter for the People's Daily - largest media group in China. 

The main point: The updating and iteration of technology is an important force pushing forward societal progress, and people should not “give up eating for fear of choking” (因噎废食) because of privacy issues, but the development of artificial intelligence also cannot come at the cost of sacrificing privacy rights.

References a big problem - the selling of user information to third parties without authorization. From article: "Even if authorization is received, the data collecting party should not abuse the user’s data. People submitting the location of vehicles are doing so possibly to obtain smart transportation services, and not to receive many annoying product advertisements about vehicle insurance."


Article: Is AI the natural enemy of privacy?

This Week's ChinAI Links

First, an apology and correction from last week's ChinAI Links. I called out some work done on China's development of artificial intelligence-directed robots" to be linked with some shady funding relationships between Orion Strategies and a think tank called Project 2049. The scholar in question, Bill Gertz, was referenced in the article in the following way: "The same week in October 2017 that Orion contacted Gertz, he published an article about the threat of China developing advanced weapons capabilities...such as artificial intelligence-directed robots."  I mis-interpreted this to mean that Orion had told Gertz to write the article, but it seems like Sludge is merely implying this and have not supplied any evidence. Gertz's article is a readout of a USCC report that is based on solid scholarship. I apologize for not doing my due diligence, and I'll keep the editorializing in these sections to a minimum in the future.
My latest piece with Paul Triolo and Samm Sacks is on China's approach to shaping international AI standards. Here's my Twitter thread on key takeaways form the piece, and here's a translation of excerpts from the White Paper itself.
This latest piece was through the DigiChina Initiative at New America, which just announced a $250,000 partnership with the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative (AI Initiative), a project of MIT’s Media Lab and Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center. This will support DigiChina's a collaborative effort to translate, analyze, and contextualize Chinese digital policy developments. Congrats to the DigiChina team.

Lotus Ruan, for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has a good piece on big data in China and the battle for privacy out recently - be on the lookout for two more papers from ASPI this week.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

Shout out to everyone who is commenting on the translations - idea is to build up a community of people interested in this stuff. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @jjding99