Current Publications

Dreading Big Brother or Dreading Big Profit? Privacy Concerns toward the State and Companies in China

H. Christoph Steinhardt, Lukas Holzschuh, Andrew W. MacDonald

States and companies around the world have intensified their collection of personal information. China’s information state and its digital economy are particularly industrious data collectors. The resulting extensive exposure of Chinese citizens’ personal information could reasonably provoke privacy concerns. To date, the relative distribution of concerns toward government and companies, as well as the structural and ideological roots of privacy concerns in China, are not yet well understood. Concerns over personal information being combined in a big data scenario have not yet been examined in the Chinese context. Drawing on an original online survey from 2019 (N = 1,500), representative of the Chinese online population, this study reveals that concerns about data collection by government are low, albeit modestly elevated among individuals who are ideologically not aligned with the state. By contrast, concerns over data collection by companies are both extensive and consensual across key socio-structural and ideological divides. Surprisingly, the combination of government and commercially collected personal information does not multiply concerns. Thus, the Chinese authoritarian information state is perceived as a safety device for, rather than a threat to, citizens’ personal information. Extensive state interventions in the digital economy converge with broadly shared popular concerns about corporate information privacy practices.

Department of East Asian Studies
External organisation(s)
Duke Kunshan University
First Monday
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
506014 Comparative politics, 602045 Sinology
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Law, Human-Computer Interaction, Computer Networks and Communications
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