Data privacy in the digital age: a comparison between China and Germany

On Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 in Berlin


Danqi Guo, Chaoting Cheng, Xuan Zhang, Christof, Leif, Ke Li, Xiaomeng Lin, Weihao Liu, Jingyi Zhao

Voice Recording of the Discussion:


On Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019


Café Hardenberg, Hardenbergstraße 10, 10623 Berlin

Introduction to the discussion topic

In recent years, digitalization has become a buzzword among companies, government as well as a large variety of social campaigns around the globe. The issue of privacy stands at the centre of the digital transformation as one that deserves extensive and open debates not only for policymakers, but also every one of us that has been influenced – directly or indirectly – by digital technologies. Against this background, countries like Germany and China present themselves as interesting, and in many aspects, contrasting cases in terms of general perceptions to privacy. How do Germans and Chinese think about privacy in the era of digitalization? What are the similar/divergent concerns as well as preferences regarding personal privacy vis-à-vis digital technologies that provide us with great opportunities and challenges at the same time? To which extent do respective national history and culture affect people in these two countries in their understanding and ways to deal with the relations between intrusive technology and privacy? We are looking forward to your voices to these questions this Saturday afternoon.

Round 1: What is privacy for you? Do you think it is an issue or not? Are there any differences between German and Chinese perceptions towards privacy?

Chaoting: it’s generally very difficult to keep one’s privacy in the trend of digitalization; no individuals and countries could avoid such trend…However different perceptions we might think of people in China and in Germany, there is in fact no big difference – Chinese people also care about their data. But it’s also true that many Chinese would trade some of their personal information for certain kind of convenience.

Christof: Germans suspicious of the state; e.g. Eastern German being spied upon, western Germans are also suspicious of the state even after 70 years of Nazi… Strong data control by state via ID card, so the leak of personal info is a very serious thing (ID-Theft)… FRT implementing at Südkreuz triggered a big debate…what used to be called “illicit relations” such as homosexual relations may lead to unemployment if found out so very strong awareness of keeping such information by oneself. 1983: Bungesverfassungsgericht “Informationelle Selbstbestimmung” (one has the right to one’s own data) people go to the street against the state. New phenomenon on the internet: hate speech, the youth behave themselves naïve in terms of giving away one’s information.

Weihao: People in Tianjin are actually quite suspicious about the FRT. There have been some sort of complaints about the state surveillance (Taxi drivers are aware of the purposes of the installed cameras in their cars, four cameras in front of the private room kind of harassment). In China, shortage of political involvement in political decision/legislation processes…people have no right to speak out thus only silently accept the status quo… what has been discussed on the internet does not channel to high level political decision making. Cultural differences between inhabitants in Beijing and in Tianjin: Beijing embrace digital way of like, while Tianjin resists…partially because of urbanization, more naturally than Beijing…

Xiaomeng: Chinese people never have real privacy under Communist Party – a settled case and everyone knows that.
Jingyi: Used to live in China with all the cashless payment. Slow pace in Germany. Chinese people are kind of being pushed by the new technologies.

Ke Li: It’s a transparent secret in China that no one dares to criticize the government. People are aware of that they can’t change the government, so they accept. On the other hand, people also see the convenience of cashless payment. Security enhancement by the surveillance cameras against the criminals. A friend of her changed from using card payment to cash.

Zhang Xuan: Her own experiences of using FreeNow, mistakes with the fee. Didi is more transparent and safe for the users. Good for anti-corruptions because of tracked records. Privacy and technology not directly connected as long as its regulated very suspicious against FRT though.

Leif: Society’s relations to the state. The USA as an advanced example about how state deal with citizens’ data (not only its own citizens). Terrorism would probably push countries like Germany to enhance its data control… State-Society relations.
Round2: Are there differences in terms of awareness of privacy between Chinese and German people?

Chaoting: Very sure that in fact most people are very much aware of the importance of their personal information…and also that inside China there are a lot of cameras…but they don’t care because they believe government is responsible for providing public good for everyone using this kind of technology and they believe that government has the capacity to do so…This is not the case in Germany, the people’s attitude is fundamentally different. Germans and Chinese are probably two extreme case. While Germans tend to choose security over privacy, Chinese would choose convenience over security. Digital payment heavily dependent on the technologies, which are neutral per se…Germany is left behind in technological terms to really provide a nationwide payment platform. Germans are too conservative, while Chinese are too bold – they tend to oversee the possibility of the state and big companies may abuse the information they have collected…Germans distrust the state. Chinese people trust the government on the contrary. Chinese distrust corporations – similar to German people. However, Chinese tend to trust bigger institutions. The best way is in the middle…

Leif: scepticism against technologies, first emerging 1900… people were used to it because the west was the core of the high-tech.

Weihao: why people in the west like to pay credit cards while people in china like to use wechatpay? The development of Wechatpay in China is because of the underdevelopment of the banking system, other than wechat and Alipay, there is no way for them to have a credit card (hardly accessible/high threshold). We cannot generalize “Chinese” or “Western” people.

Christof: Payment in Berlin involving illegal activities (not registration, drugs and sex) unimaginable and unpractices… Nur bares is wahres. “Only cash is the real thing”. Electronic account leads to easy sanctions…even for him who usually sticks to the law. 2000, foreigners could be “invisible” in China, now every step is being controlled/surveillanced.