Chinese cyber agency signals support for tech industry

Regulators with China’s main cybersecurity watchdog sent a conciliatory message on Friday towards the country’s tech industry, which has been chastened by a years-long crackdown, including a $1.2 billion fine against international ride-hailing giant DiDi. 

In a press conference, Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) Vice Minister Niu Yibing said the agency was committed to the healthy development of local internet companies, according to a summary it posted online. CAC cybersecurity coordination bureau head Sun Weimin said the agency was also supportive of domestic firms seeking listings on overseas exchanges, according to Reuters — despite that being the apparent source of DiDi’s regulatory issues.

The CAC was once known primarily as China’s internet censor, but in the last few years it expanded its scope to become the country’s effective data regulator — including drafting the frameworks for China’s Data Security Law and Personal Information Protection Law. 

Last summer, the agency launched an inquiry into DiDi just days after the company went public in the largest debut of a Chinese company in years on the New York Stock Exchange and limiting it to existing users in China. CAC later announced companies with more than 1 million users would need to undergo security reviews prior to being listed on foreign exchanges. 

This spring, DiDi’s board voted to unlist the firm from the exchange. In July, CAC announced the company would face a $1.2 billion fine — which DiDi accepted, saying it would “commit itself to comprehensive self-assessment, active coordination with the regulatory authorities, earnest completion of rectification, and rigorous adherence to the requirements of the decision and of applicable laws and regulations.”

The crackdown sent a chill through China’s booming tech sector, adding to a feeling of uncertainty around the direction of the country’s cybersecurity policy. ByteDance, a Chinese company made famous for its popular short-form video app TikTok, put its plans for an offshore IPO on hold last March, following the CAC's actions, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Although the new messaging is likely aimed at dissuading similar fears, Sun said the agency was continuing to supervise DiDi’s data efforts and would punish other firms that put national security at risk, Reuters reported. DiDi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson

(they/them) is a longtime cybersecurity journalist who cut their teeth covering technology policy at ThinkProgress (RIP) and The Washington Post before doing deep-dive public records investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and American Oversight.