Help Wanted: Tencent seeks ‘upright’ people for a new privacy oversight committee
Dina Temple-Raston October 19, 2021

Help Wanted: Tencent seeks ‘upright’ people for a new privacy oversight committee

Help Wanted: Tencent seeks ‘upright’ people for a new privacy oversight committee

Tencent Holdings, China’s biggest internet company and the force behind WeChat in China, is looking for lawyers, technical experts, media professionals, and “other members of the public” to become part of its new privacy oversight board.

According to the company, the new “personal information protection external oversight committee” will be asked to weigh in on the company’s user data protections. The recruitment effort makes Tencent the first Big Tech company in China seeking to bring itself in line with a Chinese privacy protection law that goes into effect November 1.

The social media and gaming giant has asked that people apply for one of 15 slots on the committee, according to a statement the company posted on the WeChat app last Friday. The recruitment conditions are broad. To qualify, the statement said, you must:

— Be at least 18 years old
— Be honest and trustworthy, upright and fair
— Have the public interest at heart and be enthusiastic about privacy protection
— Be willing to study up about PPI and the internet
— Understand the laws and regulations related to the protection of personal information.

Tencent’s announcement comes just two weeks before China is set to begin enforcing a new Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL). One of the regulations within the law is that companies need to establish independent committees with outside experts to provide oversight. The rule applies to companies with “a large number of users.” The law doesn’t say what a “large number actually is, or precisely what these oversight bodies are supposed to do.

Other big Chinese internet companies like Alibaba and ByteDance have yet to unveil their plans for oversight, though they have provided some announcements on how they intend to improve data protection on their platforms. Earlier this summer, Beijing fired a shot across the bow of tech companies said it was concerned that Didi, the Chinese ride-hailing company, might be sharing sensitive personal information with foreign companies.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), published an article last week that worried aloud about financial apps like Futo Securities and Tiger Securities not being careful enough with user data. Among the author’s concerns: the companies could provide information to the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S. if asked to do so.

If the decision to set up an independent watchdog body for privacy protection sounds familiar, it should. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which it was revealed that a British consulting firm had harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users, the FTC told Facebook it had to create an independent committee to oversee decisions affecting user privacy. There have been a lot of questions as to how much such a committee really does, since it has no authority to veto anything management decides.

Dina Temple-Raston is a senior correspondent at The Record, and previously served on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories about national security, technology, and social justice.