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Privacy perception and protection on Chinese social media: a case study of WeChat

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Abstract

In this study, the under-examined area of privacy perception and protection on Chinese social media is investigated. The prevalence of digital technology shapes the social, political and cultural aspects of the lives of urban young adults. The influential Chinese social media platform WeChat is taken as a case study, and the ease of connection, communication and transaction combined with issues of commercialisation and surveillance are discussed in the framework of the privacy paradox. Protective behaviour and tactics are examined through different perceptions of privacy in the digital age. The findings of this study suggest that users possess certain amount of freedoms on WeChat. However, users’ individual privacy attitudes and behaviour in practice suggest they have a declined sense of their own freedom and right to privacy. A privacy paradox exists when users, while holding a high level of concerns, in reality do little to further the protection of their personal information on WeChat. We argue that once a user has ingrained part of their social engagement within the WeChat system, the incentive for them to remain a part of the system outweighs their requirement to secure their privacy online as their decision-making is largely based on a simple cost-benefit analysis. The power and social capital yielded via WeChat is too valuable to give up as WeChat is widely used not only for private conversations, but also for study or work-related purposes. It further blurs the boundaries between the public, the professional and the private, which is a rather unique case compared with other social media around the world.

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Correspondence to Ming Cheung.

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Chen, Z.T., Cheung, M. Privacy perception and protection on Chinese social media: a case study of WeChat. Ethics Inf Technol 20, 279–289 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-018-9480-6

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