Misbehaving mobile carriers get shamed by the government in China
What happens when wireless carriers get busted in China versus the US
Some American mobile carriers are reportedly selling real-time location data for their customers, sparking concern about a data scandal and calls for… discussion.
The timing makes for an interesting companion, because China has just taken action against a number of mobile carriers, slapping them with fines and public shaming.
That apparent quick action might sound efficient and even preferable to what ensues in the West. But that level of government control has a dark downside.
The Motherboard report says that AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have been selling customers’ real-time location data -- data which ended up on the black market. It triggered concerns, calls for an investigation, and an invitation for the FCC chairman Ajit Pai to appear before lawmakers. (It was an invitation he turned down due to the ongoing US government shutdown.)
Those carriers have since pledged to stop selling data to third parties. But it’s not the first time that America’s major telecoms have come under fire for not doing enough to protect customer data. It’s also not the first time that they’ve promised to do better.
Meanwhile, in China authorities released an updated telco naughty list this year. Companies owned by two of China’s biggest carriers -- China Unicom and China Telecom -- are among the more than two dozen operators fined or handed official warnings for “market disruptions and unlawful operations.” No further details on the violations were provided.
Being named and shamed on the list, which the Chinese government updates periodically, carries more of an impact than a dent in pride. Repeat offenders risk facing trouble renewing their business permits, and companies are advised to consult the list when considering future partnerships with offenders. There’s no company that’s too big to name either: Even titans like Baidu have been included on the list before.
At its best, China’s tight grip on its tech industry ensures transgressions are addressed promptly. For some people in the country, that administrative efficiency has turned into a source of national pride: This meme on Weibo features a panda in a spacesuit, with the caption, “Here there’s never a shutdown.”
But the forceful approach can also be a source of fear and frustration.
Consider the online community of joke-loving enthusiasts who lost their favorite app overnight because of a government crackdown. Or the gamers who worry the government could one day ban their beloved PC gaming platform, Steam, causing games they own to suddenly disappear.
And the government’s heavy scrutiny will continue. Just last week, the country’s cyber watchdog announced it’s kicking off a six-month internet sweep on content it deems negative or harmful.