Data leaks violate privacy [Global Times]
(Global Times Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Illustration: Lu Ting/GT
While people today are embracing the tremendous benefits that the Internet has brought, the rapid growth and development of information technology over the past decade can also backfire on us. One of the most recent and troubling cases is the personal data of millions of hotel guests leaked from a domestic website.
The website first came to light in mid-October when a link to the site was posted on a microblog, according to Chinese media reports. It allowed visitors to enter a name or an ID number of a Chinese resident to see if his or her personal information was on the online database. For those whose information had been leaked, the site returned their name, gender, ID and mobile phone number, e-mail address, and recent hotel check-in dates, a Global Times November story reported.
Although the original website was soon shut down by the country's Internet watchdogs, a number of similar websites continued popping up until late last month. These websites reportedly revealed detailed information of some 20 million Chinese citizens who had checked in to a string of well-known domestic hotel chains.
A subsequent investigation conducted by a Chinese Internet security monitoring platform found that the leak came from a Wi-Fi technology service provider that many hotels used to store customers' registration information.
Two computer security experts in Shanghai who discovered that their hotel check-in records were exposed online decided to file a lawsuit against several Chinese hotel chains for failing to protect their customers' personal information.
Despite all the efforts and amendments that have been made to deal with this information leak case, the damage has already been done for some. A dramatic story that caught public attention was that of a university teacher in Shanghai who split up with her fiancé after seeing the hotel registration records of her husband-to-be before they met - evidence, she believes, of dishonesty and debauchery.
The very fact this private tragedy became fodder for public debate highlights the risks of uploading one's personal information in the digital age, something we do regularly both knowingly and unwittingly.
Indeed there are still hundreds of thousands of people who likely remain unaware that their personal information has been leaked online in this case.
In addition to such personal domestic dramas, the information leak poses potential threats to those affected because it could be exploited for all manner of criminal activity, as many experts on Internet security have warned.
One of the aforementioned Shanghai computer security experts who decided to pursue legal action against the hotel chains told the Global Times in an earlier interview that a hacker could easily obtain passwords to e-mail accounts using the detailed personal information leaked from the websites.
And what's even more dangerous is that a trained hacker might be able to get one's online bank account number and PIN based on the leaked data, potentially bringing great financial losses to innocent victims.
Even if the information is not used for nefarious ends, in a legal sense, any leakage of personal information should be treated as an invasion of privacy. Although fortunately, the online sites that revealed the personal information of hotel guests have been closed down, victims' lives have still been exposed to a legion of strangers and thus their right to privacy has been violated.
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