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Personal Info Search Engine Evoking Controversy

A newly established search engine, with a collection of 90 million people's personal details online, claimed itself to be the biggest of its kind. But it stirs big concern on privacy, and an alumni website is considering setting lawsuits against it.

When people log on www.ucloo.com and type in a person's name, they'll find the page with full information about him or her, including phone numbers, e-mail address, family address, marriage situation, criminal records and bank credit, which is supposed to be hidden to outsiders. The instruction on the engine tells that you only need to pay one yuan for the total disclosure. 

Where is the database from? People wonder. Some netizens suspect the personal information has come from an alumni website www.5460.net. In other words, Ucloo stole them via a certain high-tech way.

In fact, www.5460.net has already accused Ucloo through its own website for its illegal use of the relevant information. Now managers of the alumni website are considering filing a lawsuit against Ucloo, Shanghai Morning Post reported on December 27. But there is the problem that they cannot present any proof and even don't know who runs Ucloo.

"So far, apart from the name of the company, we know nothing about it," said Luo Wenxian, spokesperson for www.5460.net. "There is no valid telephone number, nor registered address. We will negotiate with it as soon as we can find its whereabouts. From our point of view, we are also victims in this event."

According to Shanghai Daily, a source close to the engine said it was set up by Kaosco Technology Inc. "The office was once located in Pudong District, Shanghai, but the company has already moved out," she said. "The CEO of the company is named Randy Ding, a Chinese American, who registered the search engine in Seattle, and he is currently in the US. There is no way to reach him."

One of the earliest servers set up in China to provide chat rooms for schoolmates, www.5460.net has now over 14 million users. While registering into the alumni website, users are required to fill a form for details of their personal information. They did not expect that the information for the convenience of their classmates would be stolen. The website had stopped public access to users' information last month. As for the leaked information, its spokesperson said that the company had no responsibility, since some users hadn't applied the security settings the website provided. He pointed out that the figure of 90 million publicized by Ucloo could be some kind of bragging promotion.

Many people hold that as long as the website keeps its users' personal information, it has the obligation to protect their privacy by all possible means. Not to leak the information intentionally is not enough.

Lawyer Liu Chunquan said stealing data from the website is an infringement of privacy, adding that "it's an abuse of searching engine." 

But Xu Yi from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences told Shanghai Daily that there is no legal precedent on personal information leaking. "There is no clear definition about personal information in China, and we do not have any law to regulate such activities," he said.

(China.org.cn by Zhang Rui, January 4, 2006)

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