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Chinese Citizens Want Their Privacy Back

November 11, 2019, 2:06 PM UTC

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When I went through customs last week in Guangzhou, an immigration official directed me to an automated scanner that took a photo of my face and recorded my fingerprints. It wasn’t like I could raise the same objection I’d lodged with the San Francisco front-desk software company Envoy when I refused to trade my image for a visit with the CEO. If wanted to proceed into China, I’d need to surrender my privacy.

Facial-recognition technology is widespread in China. Its applications range from public shaming of jaywalkers (which doesn’t always go as planned) to an admittance and payment system in an experimental store by the retailer Suning, as I reported from Fortune’s Global Tech Forum.

I had assumed there was little debate in China over the propriety of such ubiquitous invasions of privacy. I was wrong. Social media is buzzing about the case of Guo Bing, a law professor in Hangzhou (where Alibaba is based), who has sued a safari park that required him to use his image to gain entry. The Economist reported that commentators are protesting the potential sale of their personal information without their consent. I read that and thought, ‘You go, Chinese Internet users!’

We are in such early days of this exceedingly powerful technology that its ramifications are only starting to be understood. That the Chinese government is not censoring a debate over at least the commercial use of facial-recognition software shows how nascent the conversation is. (If the government didn’t want the debate to happen on social media, it wouldn’t happen.)


Last week, I repeatedly heard a variant of the phrase, “the instructions of President Xi Jinping,” as in, we, Chinese businesspeople, are acting in accordance to the wishes of China’s leader. It sounded jarring to the ears of this American.


Journalist Andrew Marantz has published a book called Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation. I recommend Kara Swisher’s review in the The New York Times Book Review as a quick way to dip into this disturbing topic.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


A whole new view. A lot of Apple-related tidbits in the news this morning. To start, Apple plans to release an augmented reality headset in 2022 and AR glasses in 2023, tech news site The Information reports, citing an internal presentation to employees last month.

Secret Santa. It's not even Thanksgiving yet, but some people are already focused on the end-of-year holidays. Oprah Winfrey's annual holiday list, out last week, included many tech gadgets, such as the Apple Watch Series 5, Echo Dot Kids Edition, and Flywheel Home Bike.

Got no peace of mind. Consumers hoping to buy an Apple Watch Series 5 (see my one month review out today) or other gear with Apple's new credit card may be in for a surprise. After software developer David Heinemeier Hansson alleged that he was granted a credit line 20 times higher than his wife, despite her better credit profile, the New York State Department of Financial Service said it would investigate the card for gender bias. Goldman Sachs, which runs the card program, denied that gender plays a role in its credit decisions.

Burning a hole in my pocket. It comes too late to help Adam in his recent China travels, but mobile pay services Alipay and WeChat Pay said on Friday that they will begin accepting international credit and debit cards so that visitors to the country can utilize their apps.

You like me, you really like me. Trying to "depressurize" Instagram, the app plans to phase out public "likes" in the United States this week, CEO Adam Mosseri said on Friday. Mosseri said he'd stick with the new policy even if it depressed usage. “We will make decisions that hurt the business if it’s good for people’s well-being and health,” he said.

Unbuilt. Tax breaks, regulatory breaks (bye bye, net neutrality), and what not were supposed to spark a boom in investment in broadband. But the 2020 capital spending plans announced lately by the big players, including AT&T, Comcast, and Charter, reflect reduced investments. Whoopsie.

We need you. Know a standout female leader at your company or another? Tell us about her! We’re taking nominations for Fortune’s upcoming Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, where we convene ascending leaders to converse about business, share advice, and connect with one another. It’s Dec. 10-11 in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Submit your nominations to and apply online to attend in person.


Speaking of powerful women executives, Deirdre O'Brien has held an array of management roles at Apple over her 30-plus year career at the company. Now the head of HR and retail, she talked to Shalayne Pulia for InStyle magazine's "Badass Women" series. 

When asked what the most badass thing she thinks she’s ever done, says coming out in her mid 20s about 25 years ago was one of her toughest and yet proudest moments. “I was scared, but knew I had to bring my full self to Apple,” she says. “I have never, ever regretted that big decision and today, I consider it my responsibility and a privilege to show up every day in support of our underrepresented team members. It is so important to me that everyone feels respected for who they are and that they have a deep sense of belonging.”


How ‘VSCO Girls’ Are Killing Makeup Sales—and Reshaping the Beauty Industry By Nicole Gull McElroy

Hideo Kojima on ‘Death Stranding,’ a Fractured America, and How Gaming Can Bring Us Back Together By Lisa Marie Segarra

LinkedIn CEO Wants to Curb Sexual Harassment Hidden in Private Messages By Danielle Abril

China’s Singles’ Day Sales Blew Past Black Friday and Cyber Monday—in 7 Hours By Naomi Xu Elegant

This Private Club Bridges the Gap From Coworking Space to After-Hours Lounge By Naomi Tomky

Gift Guide: Home Entertainment By Chris Morris


We had to get my mother-in-law a new phone this weekend, as her trusty iPhone 6 finally cracked beyond repair. I worried that she'd miss her dearly departed home button, but, no, she loved the lavender iPhone 11 and easily took to the required gesture-based navigation. But forget about iPhone 6 users. Journalist and editor Kathleen Davis is retro on a whole other level. She's still rocking a flip phone. Being the parent of a young boy is part of her rationale. As Davis explains: "For him, that will start with seeing that his parents don’t prioritize a little glowing rectangle over looking each other’s faces."

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman


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