SHANGHAI: When William Zhang's car insurance was about to expire in March, he did not need to look far for renewal options. In the two months before the policy was up, Zhang received calls almost daily from insurers trying to sell him a new one.
Since his initial policy was from the Ping An Insurance Group, ] “What confuses me is how many insurance companies I know about it,” said Zhang, a 26-year-old government employee from Shandong. Three other car owners told Reuters that they had experienced the same problem.
Personal data has matured in China and can be scooped up for pennies by insurance companies, banks, loan sharks, and scammers alike, according to sellers and financiers interviewed by Reuters.
In May, China, its most comprehensive data protection laws have been introduced, “tightening restrictions on personal information leaks are risky,” said Susan Ning, a partner at the law firm King & Wood Mallesons in Beijing. “Such information can facilitate other crimes,” she added.
Insurers often buy numbers from shadowy online data sellers, who themselves have acquired the information illegally, according to people in the industry.
illegally buy information from the department of motor vehicles, car licensing authorities, car sellers, or from police stations, said Michelle Hu, a partner at Boston Consulting Group who has been a consultant on insurance deals.
data “or” cellphone data “, in Chinese, Reuters found more than 30 groups Baidu declined to comment. In 19659002 Information sellers post ads in the online groups and in negotiations with buyers through private messages on QQ or WeChat.
Five sellers offered to sell Reuters lists from financial institutions of people who need insurance, and “Shanghainese men between 30 to 50”.
The price of such information is varied among sellers , ranging from 300 yuan ($ 43.64) to 2,800 yuan for 100,000 people.
A sample list included individuals' birth dates, car and home ownership, and mortgage information, in addition to names and telephone numbers.
Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the information.
Three loan agents who sell mortgages for the three leading Chinese lenders.
Some internet companies also provide access to sensitive personal information for a fee, according to Reuters' communications with two such platforms .
Duoku Technology, a Wuhan-based firm, for example, operates a personal information search platform.
For 5 yuan, Duoku returns the ID picture of any Chinese citizen's name and number are provided. For 3 yuan, the site returns data about a person's cellphone usage.
Reuters verified that both services worked. The person Who, when asked where the Duoku was collected or purchased the information, a spokeswoman at Duoku. Li, said much of the data was purchased from online merchants and sold to banks and insurance companies.
“Financial institutions use our service for risk management purposes only,” she said.
Law and order
Data privacy has got a major issue around the world, with companies like Facebook. Online scammers are also common in other countries.
In China, a proliferation of online financial platforms and users has led to a surge in consumerism in recent years, experts say.  Under current laws, personal information sellers can face up to seven years in prison and a fine, while buying personal data can be punished by fines and up to three years in prison. Corporations are subject to similar legal punishments.
Despite such censure, around 90% of phone scams stem from personal information breaches, according to a Union report in May.
“Central to this problem is the high cost of living, of violating relevant laws, “said Ning.
“For some individuals with authorization, others' personal information is just a few clicks away.”
Other reasons behind personal data breaches include a few of the rules on certain websites, and ambiguous terms in certain contracts regarding the use of personal information, said Ning.
“China has a large population and data privacy cases, it is difficult to investigate,” Ning said.
New guidelines for companies on handling personal data.
The European Union's new rules on privacy protection – the General Data Protection Regulation – took effect the same month.
The EU regulations – which will affect Chinese firms. The Chinese guidelines allow for silent or implied consent, for example, whereas the European rules do not. – Reuters