Data privacy? Not in China

More than 4 years ago, C. wanted to buy an apartment. To that end, he went to a couple of real state agencies to see what they had available. As you would expect, he gave them his phone number so they could keep in touch and call him when there was something new available. What you wouldn’t expect is that now, over 4 years later, he still gets DAILY phone calls from random realtors asking if he is interested in buying an apartment.

Property buyer chased by phone calls offering apartments, investments, home renovations or to rent out the apartment he just bought.


A few years ago I went to a private hospital in Suzhou to have my annual check-up done. This hospital is Taiwanese and has a good reputation among foreigners in Suzhou. One of the tests included in the check-up package was a body fat calculation. I had to step on a machine barefoot and grab a handle with my hands, and somehow the machine learned my percentage of body fat from doing this. The doctor was a young woman. To my surprise, a few days later she added me on WeChat, even though I had not given her my number or WeChat ID; she must have got my phone number from the patient data form I had to fill when I arrived to the hospital. To my even bigger surprise, she started peddling me some weight loss products.

Last year, a few days after giving birth, I suddenly received two strange friend requests on WeChat. One was from a “breast masseuse”, a service offered here which supposedly makes your milk come faster and more abundantly. The other was from a self-called paediatrician (probably not even a real doctor, as why would a doctor need to spam people on WeChat?). A bit later, I started receiving text ads from VipKids, an online website popular among Chinese parents where children can have English lessons with native speakers. I sometimes receive friend requests from people I don’t know and random text advertisements, but the timely appearance of those child-related services made me wonder… who had given them my contact information? The hospital I gave birth in? The Taobao stores where I had bought baby products? Who knows…

Phone calls offering all kind of things. Does this kind of marketing work at all? Because I personally always say no to any kind of unsolicited ad…


These are just some examples of how your personal data are treated in China and I don’t think there is any way to avoid it happening. Here you know that if you give your phone number to some company, they can (and will) sell your information to basically everybody. Based on the amount of articles about this problem that I found when I searched on Baidu (the Chinese Google), this is something that worries and bothers many people, but I’m not sure there is any specific regulation aimed at protecting people from 骚扰电话 saorao dianhua (literally, harassing phone calls).

In Spain, until a few years ago it was relatively normal to receive unsolicited calls from phone and internet providers. They were so evil that they often called between 3 and 5 pm, which is nap time for the lucky people that don’t have to work in the afternoon. I haven’t lived in Spain for a long time so I’m not completely sure how it is now, but at least there’s a Robinson list where you can be added and telemarketers must check and avoid calling the numbers on it. There’s also a Data Protection Agency where you can complain.

How’s the situation in your country? Do you get a lot of unsolicited ads via phone call or text?