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There's no privacy and information security these days

"There's no privacy and information security these days," Li Shufu, the chairman of Geely Holding Group and Volvo Cars, said at a New Year's forum. "When you walk on the road, there are surveillance cameras everywhere."

"Pony Ma must be reading our WeChat messages every single day," he added, referring to the founder of Tencent, the Chinese internet giant that runs the social media and chat app, which has almost one billion users.

In a statement, Tencent said that the company did not store the chat history of users and that it would never use chat history for big data analytics. The comments were met with widespread disbelief: WeChat users have been arrested over what they've said on the app, conversations have turned up as evidence in court proceedings, and activists have reported being followed based on WeChat conversations.

"It has become a default setting for me now to assume that we have no privacy in the face of Alibaba and Tencent," said Li Luyao, a college student in Beijing.

The issue has filtered to the top of the Chinese leadership. Even as Beijing continues to assemble one of the most sophisticated and wide-scale surveillance systems in the world, politicians have called for better privacy protections. Laws have been beefed up to better protect consumer data. And it has had an impact overseas, too: Ant Financial's deal to buy MoneyGram, the money-transfer company, collapsed amid concerns in the United States over a Chinese company having access to a large amount of financial data.


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