Tencent-backed Internet giant probes massive user data leak

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(Bloomberg) -- Meituan Dianping, the internet giant backed by China’s most valuable tech corporation, has begun investigating reports of a data breach that exposed the private information of tens of thousands of users.

The food-delivery and e-commerce giant said it’s working with police to investigate an alleged leak that’s drawn fire from concerned consumers and again cast doubt on the ability of Chinese web firms to safeguard sensitive personal information. Local media reports highlighting the potential breach come as revelations about leaks at Facebook Inc. spur a regulatory and consumer backlash against internet companies around the globe.

In Meituan’s case, allegedly tens of thousands of data snippets -- everything from names and mobile numbers to home addresses -- on food-delivery customers went on sale online for as little as 0.1 yuan (2 cents) per item, the Beijing News reported this week. The company, which counts social media leader Tencent Holdings Ltd. among its backers, said it makes every effort to safeguard consumer privacy through internal control units and technical teams. But it acknowledged that the complexity of the business meant criminal parties could have accessed the data.

“Because of the multiple parties involved in food delivery, such as merchants and third-party delivery services, some unlawful participants might have been able to gain access to information,” it said in an emailed statement.

Data privacy has risen to the fore since revelations that information on as many as 87 million people may have been passed onto political consultancy Cambridge Analytica without their consent. While Chinese users have grown comparatively more open about sharing private data with apps, the scope of the latest reported leak may still spook Meituan users who rely on its services for everything from meals to booking movie tickets and hotels.

The Tencent-backed company owns one of the few so-called Chinese super-apps that competes with ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing and Tencent’s own WeChat. It’s said to be angling for a Hong Kong initial public offering at a valuation of $60 billion.

Meituan’s closest rival is Ele.me, owned by e-commerce titan Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. The startup said in a separate statement it employed as many as 200 people to guard against data theft.

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