What I Learned at Alibaba’s Data Protection Summit

Samm Sacks | Center for Strategic and International Studies

Yesterday on Capitol Hill the Senate held another hearing on consumer data privacy. Amid ongoing debate in the United States over U.S. privacy legislation, I recently traveled to Hangzhou for a summit hosted by the Alibaba Data Security Institute with the key players shaping China’s fledgling data protection system. Conversations over tea about the relationship between national security and privacy, data mining by service providers, and what is even possible in China’s system went late into the night.

While the contours of these discussions looked quite different from yesterday’s hearing in Washington and the Senate testimony just two weeks ago by executives from Google, Apple, and others on data privacy, there are important parallels as China grapples with its own data policy challenges. And as the debate in the United States unfolds, Chinese policymakers are taking note of what this could mean for China. The two systems are emerging in ways that reference each other.

Below I discuss my main takeaways from the Hangzhou event (along with other conversations in Beijing and Shanghai that same week): mounting pressure on Chinese tech companies from Beijing over how they handle personal data; the relationship between Chinese tech companies and the government when it comes to spreading the so-called “Chinese-led” internet globally; and how debate over data governance in China and the United States is not occurring in a vacuum, but informs the other’s policies.

Categories Politics Technology

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