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CCTV Expose Secretly Films Chinese Digital Shops

State Broadcaster Says Agencies Illicitly Collect Personal Data

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China's state broadcaster is taking a harsh stance on digital agencies that track consumer online behavior, accusing them in a March 15 TV report of illicitly collecting personal information—a bad omen for Western companies specializing in consumer data that are now eyeing the Chinese market.

CCTV secretly filmed agencies
CCTV secretly filmed agencies

That the expose-style report aired on CCTV, the government mouthpiece, suggests Beijing may be tightening supervision of companies that can access consumers' personal data.

Using hidden cameras, a CCTV reporter apparently posing as a prospective client had conversations with employees at five local digital-ad agencies. Agency employees told the reporter they use cookies to access web users' personal information, including gender, age, marital status, education, salary and email addresses, to more accurately target consumers with online advertising. The story featured footage from what appeared to be the offices of agencies Yoyi and Avazu. The agencies were not given a chance to respond to the allegations.

A top executive at one of the agencies said that CCTV took comments out of context to make it seem as if they were implicating themselves in breaching consumer privacy. CCTV had no comment.

The shops develop consumer profiles based on cookie data, but it's done in line with international standards, without accessing identifying information, said the executive, who declined to be identified to avoid drawing additional scrutiny from regulators.

The influential broadcaster takes aim at a different high-profile multinational company each year. This year, CCTV targeted Apple, saying its repair policies fail to meet standards set in Chinese law. Other state media outlets piled on the criticism. Apple CEO Tim Cook has since apologized and vowed to improve customer service policies.

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