Chinese tycoons' personal data leaked on Twitter

It is unclear who controlled the Twitter account, which posted details of Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma (left) and Dalian Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin (above).
It is unclear who controlled the Twitter account, which posted details of Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma (above) and Dalian Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin.PHOTOS: REUTERS, BLOOMBERG
It is unclear who controlled the Twitter account, which posted details of Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma (left) and Dalian Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin (above).
It is unclear who controlled the Twitter account, which posted details of Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma and Dalian Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin (above).PHOTOS: REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

Addresses, national identity numbers posted for a few hours before account was suspended

HONG KONG • For a few brief hours this week, China had its own answer to WikiLeaks.

A mysterious Twitter account posted the personal information of dozens of the country's most prominent people, including billionaires and even the architect of the country's Internet controls.

The account @shenfenzheng - which means "personal identification" in Chinese - was suspended by Twitter on Thursday afternoon and its posts are no longer available.

It was used to post photographs and screenshots containing personal information such as addresses, national identification numbers, educational attainment and the marital status of well-known Chinese.

They include the two richest people in China: Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma and Dalian Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin.

Details of Tencent Holdings chairman Ma Huateng, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun and Sany Heavy Industry chairman Liang Wengen were also purportedly disclosed.

It was unclear who controlled the account, and whether that person was in China.

If in China, the person had the technical means to overcome the country's so-called Great Firewall, which blocks Twitter.

The person, or people, appear to view China's Internet controls with some disdain.

One of the identification cards posted was purported to be that of Mr Fang Binxing, known as the architect of the Great Firewall.

"It's fascinating irony here, but the Great Firewall isn't ironclad," said Mr Jason Ng, a New York-based researcher with Citizen Lab, which has conducted studies exposing weak information security among Chinese companies. 

"Even if you have the most sophisticated developers out there, you will still inevitably get hackers who are one step ahead of you."

In China, buying and disseminating personal information is against the law.

Violators can face three to seven years in jail and fines, according to a statute passed last year by the National People's Congress.

But thousands, if not millions, of people have access to the national police database that contains such information. If they do not have access, they may know someone who does.

"Surprised by these tidbits of information?" @shenfenzheng posted before the account was suspended. "I hope this can get fellow countrymen thinking. Personal privacy is worth nothing in China."

The Chinese national identity number contains information in its 18 digits, including sex, birth date, and the province, city and even neighbourhood of a person's legal residence. Despite the tough new law, those numbers can sometimes be found on websites of government agencies.

There are other ways to legally obtain such numbers.

Chinese citizens who are directors in companies registered in Hong Kong often provide their home addresses and national identification card numbers on publicly available documents found in the city's online company registry.

NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese tycoons' personal data leaked on Twitter'. Print Edition | Subscribe