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Social media platform WeChat and many others in China are tightly controlled, and when it comes to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, they all follow the official line. Photo: iStock

The first debate in the new year was between two Chinese tycoons who have rarely crossed words with each other over Internet privacy.

Geely Automobile Holding chairman Li Shufu fired the opening shot by saying there is almost no privacy in China, with hidden cameras all over the roads, and the tracking of passengers easily conducted through smart cars.

Wait, more words to come. At the 2018 Zhisland New Year Forum in Zhuhai, Li said we should all be aware that we live in a transparent world in which there is no security of information.

“For example, our phone and WeChat. I am thinking Pony Ma is watching us through WeChat every day because he can see whatever he wants.

“Because we have too many commercial secrets exposed in front of people – and that will hinder China’s competitiveness in the world.”

Bravo for Li, who saw his wealth explode last year because shares of Geely Automobile Holding, a blue-chip company whose parent took over Volvo, were up 260% in Hong Kong, beating “Pony” Ma Huateng’s Tencent Holding’s 110% rise.

Tencent, which has nearly a billion WeChat users, was quick to put up a statement that it is purely a misconception to suggest it is monitoring the social-media app every day.

The statement read: “Please rest assured that privacy has always been one of WeChat’s most important principles. We have neither the authority nor reason to look at your WeChat.”

Last August, Tencent vice-president Ding Ke said the firm would never collect and keep user data except for national regulatory purposes.

“Only when chat logs or users are under surveillance by the country will Tencent collect the data according to law,” he said.

“There are many misunderstandings outside. Tencent has the ability, but in fairness, we have no reason to spend so much money to collect enormous chat logs without any intention.”

Ding made the statement amid a dispute Tencent had with Chinese telecom-equipment maker Huawei Technology over the right to collect user data from WeChat on Huawei’s smartphones.

Let’s be clear that Tencent is not Apple, which fought the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to force the company to unlock an iPhone used by a terrorist during an attack in San Bernardino, California, in 2015.

We just need to be more careful with our communications on WeChat, according to the Geely chief’s advice.

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