Day 144: My Privacy Settings

Is there no such thing as privacy in China? Chinese students certainly have never heard of having a single-room in college. Perhaps gone are the days of 8-10 people per room, but 4-6 people per room seems about normal now. That’s welcome change to many college students who have lived as single children all their lives. Living with your friends? Cool! Right? My roommate refuses to spend the night alone in our room anymore since he can easily sleep in the same room as his friends.

But in today’s day and age, “privacy” often defined as your digital records. I quizzed my one-on-one teacher today on the subject of records. Everyone in China has a record from birth to death (and beyond) that is kept by the government. Your “permanent record” shows where you reside, where you went to school, where you work, anything that has merited note, etc. It’s all there. Centralized like only China can do. Chinese people never get to see their record. But they know it exists. It magically follows them around the country as they change jobs, marry, move to new cities, etc. While the American government might well do the same, it comes across as a strange idea that your records are all in one place. What if your one file with everything about you gets leaked somehow?

I recently logged on to one of two big travel (very reputable) websites in China as I book travel post-Hangzhou. I booked a ticket and was told I need to verify my identity. How does one do that in China? You send a signed form with your full credit card number (not the last four digits) and passport number to the company. On top of that, a photocopy of your credit card (both sides) and a photocopy of your passport is needed to complete the booking. Let me just say that is absurdly over-the-top to fax away so much private information. Who knows where the fax ends up. I can email it in and try my luck with digital records that could easily be stolen too. Admittedly, this is only for foreign credit cards. I think the company got taken by a big scam from abroad and so now has clamped down big time. But seriously, I’ve never felt so insecure with information as I am here. I’ll be watching those credit card statements closely. At least they don’t ask me for my social security number…

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3 thoughts on “Day 144: My Privacy Settings”

  1. It is a true case of gathering information just for the sake of gathering information. Maybe it is to provide something for people to do in order to have full employment in China.

    See if it makes sense to you, to open an account at the banks in China, you have to give them not only the copy of your passport pages that contain your name, information, signature and photo, they also want a copy of the cover of the passport.

  2. Update on my ticket purchasing experience: I ended up sending the ridiculous amount of private information into the company to book a flight. BUT they didn’t accept it because my credit card has “Please Ask for Photo ID” on it where the signature should be. I tried explaining it to them as well as sending in my California driver license but they wouldn’t have it. So I sent another fax where I forged my own signature on the “back of the card” by just signing a photocopy… Maybe I’ll do a post on my two very different but strangely similar experiences buying plane tickets from two different companies in China…

  3. I also have “Please see id” on all my credit and check cards, except my bank of america check card with my photo on it; places in London were not cool with that. I was almost denied an oyster card for the tube unless I could prove my name was see id. Ugh I just gave up and went to an ATM. : ) Glad to hear you are still having some interesting adventures.

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