Jack Ma's Ant Apologizes for Baiting Users Into Credit System

  • Sesame Credit accused of misleading users for opt-in service
  • Ant Financial said its methods were "extremely idiotic"

Ant Financial, the internet finance behemoth controlled by billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma, has apologized for roping unsuspecting users into its fledgling but fast-growing credit-score system.

Ant Financial’s Alipay kicked off a free service this week to help users generate a consumption profile based on their shopping history. But buried at the bottom of its landing page was a small box -- checked by default -- that automatically enrolled users to its Sesame Credit unless they opted out. The subsequent online uproar prompted Ant to change that setting and to call the move “extremely idiotic,” according to a post on its official social media account.

The online outrage highlights growing concerns over a lack of transparency on how companies are gathering and using personal data, even in a country where people are subject to persistent government monitoring and censorship. Tencent Holdings Ltd. this week publicly denied it was storing users’ chat histories after a high-profile entrepreneur questioned whether it was keeping tabs on private conversations.

It also underscores how personal data has become the new currency in an ongoing race between China’s tech giants, already pioneers in the field of using highly granular mobile and online information to determine an individual’s credit-worthiness. Ant, formally known as Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group, said that none of the users who involuntarily opted in for Sesame Credit would be enrolled in the program. Tencent’s WeChat said in a statement it didn’t keep backups of users’ chat conversations on its servers.

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