Balance of big data value unlocking and protection highlight amid Didi crisis; possible solutions introduced at WAIC

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The issue of data protection has become a hot topic during the 2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC), with workshops, forums and speakers pledging to enhance data security and exhibiting related technologies, after the removal of the “Chinese Uber” Didi Chuxing app from domestic app stores raised concerns and discussions about how data should be treated in cross-border business. 

Several speakers told the Global Times on the sidelines of WAIC that the trend of using technologies and services for data privacy protection while still unlocking the value of big data is “on a rapidly rising curve,” as artificial intelligence companies face tightened regulation requirements on data protection. 

A number of forums are dedicated to the discussion of creating a balance between unlocking the value created by big data and keeping the date safe through technical means.

One such technology is called the Privacy-Preservation Computation (PPC), which is a set of cutting-edge technologies that allow companies to analyze data jointly without seeing the specific data. 

For example, the technology will allow companies to know what tea brands 20-30 girls like to drink based on a pool of data, but they wouldn’t be able to see the original data of each person involved.

“I think China is leading in Privacy-Preservation Computation. Especially this year, many new companies have emerged in the field of privacy calculation, including companies that used to engage in data, safety business or even blockchain,” a person at the Ant Group booth told the Global Times. 

Ant is also using PPC technologies by “scale application,” while promoting the technology to other companies commercially, the person said. 

Ant Group demonstrated its AntChain Morse MPC platform. The platform utilizes cutting-edge Secure Multi-Party Computation technology, cryptography and privacy protection technology to ensure that all data cooperative parties can share data while keeping their original data private, which has been applied in intelligent risk management and joint scientific research.

Wang Shuang, founder of NVXClouds Tech, also a speaker at the WAIC, said that the market of privacy calculation has surged this year. 

Data also shows a booming trend of Chinese companies’ usage and sales of data privacy services. According to a report published by the National Industrial Information Security Development Research Center, the number of China’s privacy calculation patents has risen rapidly in the past two years, with most patents applied by Ant Group, Alibaba and WeBank.

The report showed that patent applications started to rise abruptly in 2017, and there were nearly 5,000 privacy calculation patents by the end of April. 

Such a trend is very likely to accelerate after Didi’s sudden removal from domestic app stores struck alarm bells among domestic companies that Chinese regulators would toughen management over data privacy protection, experts said. 

Didi’s shares slumped for four consecutive days after the removal. On Thursday, the company’s shares slumped by 5.37 percent to $11.27 on the New York Stock Exchange.

“Didi’s rectification should serve as an example of how Chinese regulators would supervise big data platforms’ data treatment model. In the future, the direction of such supervision would become clearer, which would exert a positive influence on national security as well as privacy protection,” Kuang Yuqing, founder of Lens Company Research and a veteran financial commentator, told the Global Times. 

The problem of data privacy protection has become more sensitive for cross-border flow of data, like the Didi case, as China and the US’ relations deteriorate amid US sanctions against Chinese tech companies, according to some speakers.

“There is a strong demand for PPC in cross-border data flow, especially among the unmanned vehicle enterprises and cross-border financial institutes,” Bian Yang, vice president of Fudata Technology, told the Global Times.

Wang also agrees that PPC technology can help companies share analyzed data abroad under government authorization and data compliance, but keep the source of the data at home.

But experts still pointed out some challenges in the current data privacy sector. An Guangyong, an expert at the China Mergers and Acquisitions Association, told the Global Times that in terms of data privacy protection, China still lacks regulations as well as technologies.

“In Western countries, the updating speed of credit and related laws is most frequent (among all laws), and I think China should also formulate relevant laws to regulate data privacy, while updating it from time to time,” he told the Global Times. 

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