Spilling the beans

Celebrity’s personal information leaked


Wang Yuechi, known by his stage name Chi Zi, first came to fame through Roast Convention, China’s closest equivalent to the US programme Comedy Central Roasts. By virtue of his quick wit and well-polished jokes, the 25 year-old was a fixture on the show for three years until his sudden departure in January 2019, which disappointed many.

After dropping off the showbiz scene for months, he was back in the limelight early in May, after a highly publicised row with the producer of Roast Convention, which led to the exposure of some questionable practices at state-owned Citic Bank.

On May 6 Wang took to weibo to explain why he had been out of the public eye for almost eighteen months. Last year he accused Fun Factory Culture Media of breaching his contract by not paying him his agreed remuneration. Following his complaint, Fun Factory suspended him from working on its shows. Wang then took legal action, which saw Fun Factory retaliate, demanding Rmb30 million ($4.2 million) in damages.

“Yes, some Rmb30 million. I suspect they are not delegating the issue to a lawyer but becoming a P2P lender [i.e. behaving a like a loan shark]. I’ve come to the realisation that I’m the biggest project for Fun Factory in 2020. I’d always thought that I was the chef, but now I’ve found out I’m just a dish,” Wang sneered, adding that his life had been brought to a standstill by the lawsuit.

The turning point came when he discovered that Fun Factory had got hold of his banking details from Citic. “You don’t have my identity card, my bank card, or a search warrant,” wrote Wang, “And yet [you] could obtain records of my current account in the last two years from Citic Bank and even printed them out. Why don’t you simply withdraw all my deposits?”

Under pressure to explain how Fun Factory had got the information Citic said it needed to accommodate the wishes of its bigger clients.

Founded in 2014, the Shanghai-based production house is backed by a number of high-profile investors including Tiantu Capital (see WiC446), China Media Capital (see WiC218), and Wang Sicong, son of billionaire Wang Jianlin, through his private equity fund Prometheus Capital (see WiC246).

Accusing Citic and Fun Factory of data privacy violations, Wang then brought charges against both parties and reported the case to the public security bureau. He also claims his bank account was frozen.

The revelations elicited a barrage of criticism against the mid-tier lender. “Commoners just don’t have any privacy,” lamented a weibo user.

“I’m glad that I’ve never used [Citic Bank], and I won’t use it in future. But I’m afraid that this is just an unspoken rule of the banking industry,” commented another, referring to a lender’s readiness to reveal personal information.

Citic Bank issued an apology to Wang the next day. It said its officer was supposed to share only Wang’s payroll records with Fun Factory and that its staff had failed to comply with internal rules. “We have already penalised the officer and dismissed the branch manager,” it added.

The case has caught the attention of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, which issued a statement on May 9 notifying all banks and insurers that it was investigating Citic Bank for alleged violations of banking regulations. Acts like these could “seriously hurt consumer rights to data security,” the regulator added.

“Such leaking of personal data cannot simply end with Citic Bank’s ‘self-criticism’,” warned state news agency Xinhua, noting that a minor punishment would fall short of deterring others from ignoring data privacy rules too. It also urged the government to step up personal data protection by enacting more stringent rules, enforcing them, and making the costs of breaking the law heavier.

The advice comes at a time when news of similar incidents has emerged. An employee at state-owned China Construction Bank, for instance, was found to have pocketed over Rmb300,000 by selling customer information to third parties. The man was involved in a sprawling network of ‘information exchange’ that also offered its customers search services on QQ accounts, reported Sohu, a news portal.

Sina Weibo later said that it had suspended 441 accounts on the social media platform that were found to be selling private information on celebrities, such as their travel itineraries and where they’ll stay, between March and April.

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