Chinese internet companies are bullying their users, according to state media
Tech companies blasted in People’s Daily for changing users’ default homepage and collecting too much information
While Chinese state media outlets blast the US for bullying China in the escalating trade dispute, they’re also blasting Chinese tech companies for bullying their users.
The state-owned newspaper People’s Daily published four articles in the past two weeks criticizing what it calls “technology bullying” in the form of browser hijacking and excessive app permissions. Even as Chinese authorities have tightened their grip on the internet to “clean up the cyber environment,” the two problems remain a headache for many internet users.
The primary focus of the series of articles was browser hijacking. Even if you’re not familiar with the term, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced it. One of the most common forms of browser hijacking is seeing your homepage changed after installing new software.
In some cases, homepages are changed to get more eyeballs on sites that rely on traffic and ad revenue. In more serious cases, these pages can carry malware that aims to steal personal information. The examples cited by People’s Daily are mostly web portals that guide users to other sites.
Kingsoft Antivirus and Qihoo 360, two of the most popular security software makers mentioned in the reports, both operate their own web portals. Users quoted in the stories say their browsers were changed to these sites without their consent after downloading the companies’ antivirus software.
In traditional Chinese fashion, the two companies sent executives to the People’s Daily office where they told reporters they will “improve self-discipline,” according to the state newspaper.
These two companies were hardly the only ones at fault, though. On Zhihu, many users have also asked about what they can do when their browsers are hijacked by web portals such as 2345.com and Baidu-owned hao123.com, both also mentioned in the People’s Daily reports.
People’s Daily quotes experts as saying that such hijacking is often done through malware, so even if users manually change the homepage back to what they had before, they might still land on the unwanted web portal the next time they open the browser.
“I think Kingsoft Antivirus is a virus itself,” one Weibo user wrote in a comment liked more than 3,900 times. “You can never get rid of it.”
“360 kidnaps my computer in the name of security,” another said.
And many people are happy that authorities are finally paying attention, although some say that they’re too late.
“This is such an old problem,” a user commented. “All these years, why did they just start to pay attention?”
While three of the four articles by People’s Daily focus on browser hijacking, one article condemns another kind of “tech bullying” -- apps demanding too much access to users’ personal information. Last month, the Shanghai Consumer Council investigated 39 popular apps and found that more than 60% requested permission to access parts of users’ devices that weren’t needed for any features within the apps.
The problem with some of these companies has even extended beyond China. Google removed six Do Global apps from the Google Play Store last month after BuzzFeed revealed they were abusing permissions and committing ad fraud.