China caught in snoopgate row after massive personal data leak

Major investigation shows Zhenhua Data gathered information on 2.4 million people worldwide

China has launched a “hybrid war” by gathering personal details of 2.4 million people from around the world.

The database was put together by Zhenhua Data, which is based in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, and was compiled by using public open-source material such as social media profiles.

“Internet 2.0, a cybersecurity consultancy based in the Australian capital of Canberra whose customers include the American and Australian governments, said it had been able to recover the records of 250,000 people from the leaked dataset,” The Guardian newspaper in London reported

Included in the records were about 52,000 Americans, 35,000 Australians, and nearly 10,000 from the United Kingdom, such as UK Prime Ministers Boris Johnson, the British royal family, celebrities and military figures.

Intelligence agencies

Zhenhua Data, which is accused of having links to China’s military and intelligence agencies, has described the “report as seriously untrue.”

“We do not collect data. Our business model and partners are our trade secrets. There is no database of two million people,” a company spokeswoman told The Guardian.

“We are a private company. Our customers are research organizations and business groups,” she said, denying any links to President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party government.

Still, Zhenhua Data CEO Wang Xuefeng has used Chinese social media app WeChat to endorse waging “hybrid warfare” through manipulation of public opinion and “psychological warfare,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has revealed.

The massive database was first leaked to Christopher Balding, who worked for nine years as an academic at the HSBC Business School of Peking University in Shenzhen.

He then shared the data with Internet 2.0 for recovery and analysis before the findings were released to a media consortium in the US, Canada, UK, Italy, Germany and Australia, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I think it speaks to the broader threat of what China is doing and how they are surveilling, monitoring and seeking to influence … not just their own citizens, but citizens around the world,” Balding told the ABC.

“In the process, the company has violated the privacy of millions of global citizens, the terms of service of just about every major social media platform and hacked other companies for their data,” he said.