Tech companies must stop hacking their own users' data for commercial gain - Tencent

Company based in Shenzhen runs WeChat, the messaging and payment platform that constitutes the core of China’s internet

Seng Yee Lau, Tencent’s senior executive vice president and chairman of group marketing and global branding. Courtesy: Tencent
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Tencent is pushing other global technology companies to govern consumers’ personal data more responsibly and avoid "trespassing for commercial" reasons, an executive said.

"The biggest trespassers [online] are not people coming from outside … it is when you as a company trespass your own users," Seng Yee Lau, Tencent's senior executive vice president and chairman of group marketing and global branding, told The National.

“The worst thing is that when you are entrusted by your consumers and you hack their data. Hacking of users’ privacy or data is largely done out for commercial returns,” said Mr Seng, without naming any particular company.

The largest social media company in the world, Facebook, has come under fire for a slew of privacy-related issues recently, including exposing passwords of millions of users to its own employees.

Last year, the social media giant was embroiled in the saga of Cambridge Analytica, the British political consulting firm that obtained for clients the personal data of millions of Facebook profiles without consent, leading to US congressional hearings where Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified.

Mr Seng added that trust issues will eventually hurt companies' brand names.

“The trust issue is a becoming a deficit … in the world of marketing and branding, people think that companies are becoming less trustworthy in terms of their product offerings.”

The Shenzhen-based company – a leading investment corporation and an arch-rival of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba - runs WeChat, the messaging and payment platform that constitutes the core of China’s internet, and is China's largest technology company by market capitalisation.

Tencent's net profit for the fourth quarter of last year slid 32 per cent to 14.2 billion yuan (Dh7.74bn), below the analysts’ forecast of 18.3bn yuan, mainly due to one-off expenses related to its portfolio companies and investments in non-gaming segments.

Mr Seng said despite the impact that businesses are seeing today, AI is still in the early stages of development and global stakeholders should come together to ensure ethical standards to govern its future.

“There should be guiding principles for AI, to make sure that common issues such as data protection and privacy are taken care of. We have to define a line and make sure that innovation is not happening at the expense of crossing that line.”

While admiring the UAE’s efforts in AI, Mr Seng said that similar things are happening in the emirates that led to the technology boom in China. He said for AI to reach its full potential, it is necessary to create a full ecosystem rather than focusing on any single industry.

In China, policymakers and government laid down the infrastructure of internet that resulted in explosive growth of entrepreneurs, added Mr Seng.

“So when you have a lot of mini Steve Jobs, mini Bill Gates who are building a lot of smaller companies, then users also get stronger motivation to participate, and digitalisation takes up.

"The same things are happening in the UAE now.”