Security risks in phone apps have China worried

Didi Chuxing's headquarters in Beijing, China, on May 18, 2016.
Didi Chuxing's headquarters in Beijing, China, on May 18, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • As more people use smartphone apps to hail a ride, order food or deliver a package, the technology is being abused to collect personal data, violate privacy and, in extreme cases, cause harm to users.

The death of a young woman, apparently at the hands of a driver who was giving her a ride through a ride-hailing app earlier this month, has thrust the safety of using apps into the spotlight.

Ride-hailing behemoth Didi Chuxing confirmed that the passenger was using Hitch, which allows people heading to the same destinations to take rides together. Didi claimed the suspect used the Didi account of his father, who had passed the screening required by Hitch.

Didi has implemented measures to beef up its security, including making driver facial recognition compulsory for every Hitch trip to minimise the risk of unauthorised use.

But Mr Chen Yinjiang, deputy secretary-general of the China Consumer Protection Law Society, noted that many mobile phone apps are fraught with security issues, such as collecting more information than what they need.

A joint report released in January by Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings and the Data Centre of China Internet showed that more than 98 per cent of Android apps had access to users' private information. Around 9 per cent violated users' privacy, the report said.

Meanwhile, almost 82 per cent of third-party iOS apps have access to private information and personal features on iPhones.

Mr Zhang Jian, deputy secretary-general of the Cyber Security Association of China, said at a forum that the government, enterprises and individuals must prepare better for security risks. "The massive user base and the booming mobile Internet can mean smartphones will pose major cyber security issues. There is a need for a better mechanism to manage and supervise the industry as well."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2018, with the headline 'Security risks in phone apps have China worried'. Subscribe