Japanese messaging giant Line’s Chinese engineers’ access to user information under investigation in Japan

Japanese media said that Chinese engineers in Shanghai of The Japanese instant messaging software Line (translated as “Link” by Kyodo.com) accessed user information stored by the company without informing users. Japanese government authorities have begun an investigation into the issue.

According to a Reuters report on Wednesday (March 17), Japan’s Asahi Shimbun said that four Chinese engineers at Line’s affiliates in Shanghai logged onto Japanese servers at least 32 times since 2018 and accessed user information without notifying Japanese users. The servers held information such as users’ names, phone numbers and email addresses. These Chinese engineers were responsible for Line’s system maintenance.

Japan’s privacy protection regulations require users to be notified if their information needs to be transferred abroad, the Japan Broadcasting Association (NHK) reported Wednesday.

Japan’s Kyodo News reported Wednesday that LINE explained that the company in question accessed user information for business purposes and did not find any leakage of information. Line, however, apologized for not adequately explaining its data management policies to users.

A Japanese government official overseeing privacy regulations told Reuters, “We can’t say yet whether Line violated the rules, and we are conducting an investigation to find out.” He added that if Line is found to have acted improperly, then the Cabinet Office could instruct it to make improvements.

The above report comes as Japan is working on stricter laws and regulations for the use and storage of user data held by Internet companies.

Line, which has 186 million users worldwide, nearly half of whom are in Japan, has blocked access to user data from its Chinese affiliates, a Line spokesman said.