China’s New Law Governing Personal Data and Its Relation to Employment

Personal data is valuable, depending on who you ask. While ordinary people fill in particulars on social media such as their age, gender, and employment status without a second thought, marketers and advertisers would happily pay a high price for the sale of such information to them — and companies who own this information are more than happy to “sell” them. China’s tech giants, such as Alibaba, have benefitted from the wealth of personal data they have access to. Increasingly invasive collection of personal data, illegal sale of personal data and other malicious practices has seen a worrying rise, with businesses requiring information such as personal identification number, marital status and other unnecessary details for something as simple as registering a membership card for a particular store. With that, as of today, Beijing has passed the bill for Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), which starts from November 1st 2021, partially in hopes of regulating the amount of power various tech giants hold, as well as protecting the interests of the common people. 

The PIPL will be the first comprehensive set of laws of regulations governing the collection and usage of personal data in China. This will ban various predatory practices, such as “Big Data Swindling”, which causes old customers to face exorbitant prices for a product or a service compared to new customers. Applications would not be allowed to automatically assume that the consumer has opted for personalized advertising as default, or at the very least, they will have to provide short and obvious avenues to disable such personalization. Individual consent would be required for usage and collection of information such as biological data, financial accounts and more. In terms of employment, this greatly reduces the room for exploitation in areas such as job-search; imagine a job-seeker innocently searching for a job on a website which utilizes the power of AI and personal data — what they do not know is that the website has already gained access to information that suggests that the job-seeker is in dire straits, financially speaking, and is desperate for a job. Or that the job-seeker is a green youth, fresh out of university and in need of employment. The AI thus pushes lower paying, potentially predatory jobs that offer less benefits, in hope that someone would be desperate enough to take it up, instead of more high paying jobs. Of course, this article is not an accusation that this is happening, but merely pointing out the room for exploitation excessive usage of personal data can lead to. The point is, increased regulation on personal data benefits all by ensuring fairer chances and more equality, extending to areas of employment. 

Similar to other regions like Hong Kong and Singapore, with their own laws governing personal data in place, employers and headhunters hence would have to be more careful when collecting and using data for recruitment and management of employees. Employers could look at practices in place in these areas for references to measures that could be taken in order to safeguard employee and potential candidates’ personal data, or perhaps consult our legal advisory in handling these issues.