Many Western websites and social networks, among them Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter, cannot be currently accessed from within China, though Google is reportedly building China-specific versions of its products tailored to the government’s requirements.
In 2017, new regulations were adopted to limit access to widely-used tools that allow online users to circumvent the so-called “Great Firewall”.
Perhaps Grindr’s users will feel reassured by the company’s public commitment to their privacy, but a look at the fine print reveals that Grindr reserves the right to disclose their personal data “to comply with relevant laws”, and that the application of foreign laws may leave users “without a legal remedy in the event of a privacy breach”.
Given that Chinese companies are boosting their overseas acquisitions, users of newly Chinese-owned apps and services urgently need to ask what rights they do and don’t have to their data.
The company that owns We Chat has close links to the Communist party; the Financial Times has reported that the app “censors politically sensitive messages” and social media posts and shares user identities with the police “when instructed”.
China’s recent legal innovations mean any company operating there could in theory be vulnerable to the Chinese Communist party’s intentions.
There is evidence that the Chinese government has access to private conversations online.
In 2017, for instance, Beijing police arrested the creator of a We Chat group for discussing political and social issues.
And indeed, some of the law’s provisions may directly affect Grindr, requiring it to abide by social morality and “accept supervision by the government”.
Then again, the law also obliges network operators to process personal data in a lawful, proper, and necessary way.
The situation became even more worrisome in June 2017 when China imposed its Cybersecurity Act, one of the most wide-ranging cybersecurity statutes in the country’s history.
Many affected organisations, including international law firms, complained about the law’s “expansive scope, prescriptive requirements and lack of clarity on a range of critical issues”.
And thanks to the government’s authoritarian approach to life online, that in turn comes with serious privacy concerns.