Scholar questions Chinese court’s legitimacy in bombarding defaulters’ WeChat friends

The move aims to pressure defaulters but doubts are being raised over privacy violation.

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The Jianggan District People’s Court in Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang province, has started using the power of social media platforms such as WeChat in an effort to enforce the compliance on the country’s defaulters, according to a  post on the official WeChat account of Hangzhou People’s Court which supervises the Jianggan court.

The court began from last week placing targetted announcements of reward containing personal information about the debtor in the WeChat Moment, the social media function within WeChat, visible exclusively to the nonpayer’s network of friends and colleagues on the platform.

This move aims to pressure defaulters, and also, intends to seek useful potential clues, the court indicated, as the post information specifically targets those who have close relationships with a defaulter based on big data analysis.

Zhu Lifeng, who has failed to repay a total debt of RMB 177 million (USD 25 million) to several banks, is one of those defaulters. For anyone who provides clues about Zhu, which finally would lead to trace his hidden assets or money transferred to others, can get an award equal to 5% of the debt, which could be as high as RMB 8.9 million. The award will come from the defaulter’s found assets.

While many praise the court’s innovative way of applying advanced technologies to solve hard problems, some are showing their concerns over privacy violation.

One scholar named Ouyang Chenyu said that this move might have violated current Chinese law on privacy protection, according to The Beijing News.

To select such a group of people, the Jianggan court had to collect every defaulters’ friends’ information from their WeChat accounts, which are connected to their private phone numbers, all without the debt dodger and their friends’ approval.

Collecting users’ information without approval is not something new in the country. Only last week, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China announced that 32 apps or websites, including Meituan, YY, and Douyu, have collected and used its users’ information without their approval for unknown purposes in the second quarter of this year.