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Adam Minter

Chinese Learn the Value of Privacy

Rising data theft risks turning off customers at home and abroad.
Chinese are used to being watched.
Photographer: Feng Li/Getty Images

China's Communist government has never shown much concern for the privacy of Chinese citizens. If you have something to hide, the thinking goes, we probably need to know it. In one form or another, surveillance and monitoring have evolved into a well-honed form of social control. And as a result, neither companies nor consumers have traditionally had very high expectations for individual privacy.

That might've been fine before more than 700 million Chinese went online, and before the government began counting on sectors such as e-commerce to ease the economy's dependency on investment and exports. If China's biggest online players want to chart a bigger role for themselves at home and abroad, they're going to need to start taking privacy much more seriously.