The Beijing Internet Court, which rules on online disputes, has accepted the case of a Douban user who sued the company for violating privacy rights and misusing his personal data, according to a post on the court’s official WeChat account on Thursday.
Douban’s app continually sent the user location-based ads even after he turned off the app’s collection of location data, the plaintiff argued. Since geographical data belongs to the category of sensitive personal information, Douban’s activity should be viewed as infringement of privacy, the user claimed.
The plaintiff is asking the court to demand Douban to cease this activity, apologize, make sure he is no longer exposed to targeted marketing, and issue financial compensation to the tune of one yuan. “It is hard to predict whether he will win the case since he might not have enough proof, based on the very limited information disclosed to the public,” Huang Kai, a partner with Commerce & Finance Law Offices in Shanghai, told KrASIA on Monday.
“The core dispute behind personal information cases is that one individual considers their privacy violated, while the company itself says that it notified the user, as part of its contractual terms, that it will collect personal data,” said Zhao Baodong, a Shenzhen-based lawyer with Beijing DHH Law Firm.
Zhao added that in reality, app users seldom read the terms and conditions before they click and accept all clauses in a lengthy digital contract—which involves scrolling to the end—so that such contracts can be viewed as invalid, since not all app operators inform their users of the final purpose behind the data collection in a clear manner, as requested by Chinese law. The lawsuit is in the public interest as judicial authorities need to define what contracts should look like and set boundaries for companies, beyond which they will be infringing privacy, he said.
“Personal data protection law enforcement needs to be strengthened, and the authorities should encourage nonprofit organizations and the Procuratorate to initiate lawsuits for the public interest,” said Cao Lelong, a lawyer with Zhonglun W&D. According to Chinese civil law, the Procuratorate, or Prosecutor General, can file lawsuits on issues that are of general interest, but in practice, such cases are still very rare.