Tensions between Japan and China are riding high now — and even technology companies are not spared the blow. Chinese search giant Baidu has found itself in hot soup for claims that it is leaking information from Japan via a software program it developed, raising concerns that it could be spying on Japanese users.
The Japanese government has warned that IME software used for writing Japanese characters could lead to security leaks — including a program made by search giant Baidu — as it says that data is sent to servers outside the country. All central government ministries in Japan have been asked to steer away from such programs, and Japan’s foreign ministry has even removed Baidu’s software programs from computers at its Tokyo headquarters, Bloomberg reports.
In a statement provided to TNW, a Baidu spokesperson acknowledges that its Japanese language input program collects data to update its dictionary, but pointed out that the information is encrypted and anonymous as it is processed in the form of aggregated data. Furthermore, the servers for the program are located in Japan itself, the company says — contradicting the Japanese government’s claim that data flows to servers outside of the country.
Baidu’s Japanese language input method employs cloud technology that is widely used by similar products worldwide. This technology, together with natural language processing technologies, provides our users with a constantly updated, cloud-based dictionary.
Encrypted information is uploaded to our servers and processed as aggregated data, and as such cannot be linked back to any individual users (for instance, through account names). Therefore, this technology does not pose any risk of information leaking to our users.
The servers for Baidu’s Japanese language input method and the data consequently generated are all located locally in Japan, and adhere to the country’s laws and regulations.
The spokesperson also notes that Baidu is currently in talks with relevant Japanese government agencies to solve the issue, and is working to boost its information disclosure procedures in future versions of its products.
Japanese media are reporting that Baidu collects data even if users have opted out of providing it. Baidu’s Japan office has issued a statement saying that there was a bug with the mobile input method Simeji, which uploaded the inputted alphabetic combination to the cloud for “better processing” even when users switched off the cloud-based input function — but the bug has now been resolved.
The fact that such a glitch even existed though, serves to add on to concerns by Japanese users.
At this time of political tension between the two countries, user data — especially that related to government usage — has become an extremely sensitive issue. It is little wonder that the Japanese government is paranoid over what Baidu does with the data it collects, and as this is hard to verify independently, Baidu needs to do all it can to convince its customers of its trustworthiness.
Whether Baidu can succeed or not remains to be seen, as one challenge that all Chinese companies face is that they are immediately linked to the Chinese government in the minds of many.
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