At China’s Web Convention, a Darker Aspect of Tech Emerges


WUZHEN, China — Yearly on the World Web Convention, held since 2014 within the photogenic canal city of Wuzhen close to Shanghai, corporations and authorities officers have convened to ship a message: China is a high-tech drive to be reckoned with.

With that message now settled past a lot doubt, this 12 months’s convention showcased one thing totally different. China’s tech business is changing into extra critical about grappling with its merchandise’ unintended penalties — and about serving to the federal government.

Discussions of know-how’s promise have been leavened with contemplation of its darker unwanted side effects, reminiscent of fraud and knowledge breaches. A discussion board on defending private info featured representatives from China’s highest prosecutor and its highly effective web regulator. And a number of other tech corporations pledged their assist for Beijing’s counterterrorism efforts, at the same time as China faces worldwide criticism for detaining and indoctrinating Muslims within the identify of preventing terrorism within the western area of Xinjiang.

“Tencent has been devoted to coping with terrorist info on-line and different web crimes, according to the federal government’s crackdown,” Chen Yong, an govt in Tencent’s safety administration division, mentioned on the occasion.

The convention, which ends Friday, additionally mirrored some new challenges going through China. It was held concurrently one other massive occasion: a six-day import expo in Shanghai aimed toward exhibiting China as an enormous purchaser of overseas items. With American tariffs threatening to sluggish a weakening Chinese language economic system, the nation’s chief, Xi Jinping, spoke on the expo on Monday to proclaim that China might be a constructive drive in international commerce.

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At Wuzhen, in contrast, Mr. Xi appeared solely by proxy. The top of the Communist Occasion’s propaganda division, Huang Kunming, conveyed a message of thanks from Mr. Xi after which delivered a gap deal with that extolled the world-changing energy of web entry.

Emissaries from Silicon Valley have been additionally in brief provide. Final 12 months, the audio system at Wuzhen included Tim Cook dinner, Apple’s chief govt, in addition to Sundar Pichai of Google. This 12 months, the only Western tech govt to present a keynote deal with was Steve Mollenkopf, the chief govt of the chip maker Qualcomm.

His look served as a reminder of American companies’ ongoing travails in China, which may deepen as the 2 powers wrestle over high-tech supremacy. Qualcomm scrapped a $44 billion deal to purchase a Dutch chip producer this 12 months after China’s antitrust authorities declined to approve it, a transfer broadly considered as retaliation within the commerce struggle.

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Amongst Chinese language corporations this week, non-public enterprises confirmed off the methods during which they more and more assist and work with the federal government, whereas state-backed corporations demonstrated they weren’t doomed to be tech laggards.

The Tencent govt, Mr. Chen, described in an interview the corporate’s relationship with legislation enforcement.

Political activists have reported being adopted based mostly on what they’ve mentioned on WeChat. Chat information have turned up as proof in courtroom, fueling hypothesis about whether or not Tencent, the app’s developer, will be the supply.

Mr. Chen mentioned Tencent stories criminal activity found on its platforms to the federal government, after which authorities can request particular person info. Metadata describing when and the place customers logged right into a Tencent app might be saved for as much as six months, he mentioned. However Mr. Chen denied that the corporate gave legislation enforcement officers a again door by which they may freely peruse chat information and person knowledge.

“We solely retailer the content material that the legislation prescribes,” he mentioned. “Nonetheless lengthy the legislation says to retailer it, that’s how lengthy we retailer it. Regardless of the legislation says to retailer, that’s what we retailer.”

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