An executive at Chinese tech giant Tencent has been arrested on suspicion of sharing personal data from the WeChat social media app with an official.
The executive was named as Zhang Feng, who has in the past been referred to as a company VP.
Tencent confirmed the information and said that Zhang’s detention relates to a case of “personal corruption.” The company said that Zhang’s case was not related to its Weixin app or its WeChat international iteration.
It appears that Zhang may have passed information to a vice public security minister Sun Lijun. Sun is being investigated by Beijing for undisclosed violations of Communist Party rules, a euphemism for corruption. The Wall Street Journal reported that Zhang, like Sun, has been under investigation for several months.
Early last year, Sun was assigned to a front-line pandemic-response task force in Hubei Province and Wuhan. The anti-corruption investigation into his conduct was first reported in April 2020.
China’s tech giants have come under increasingly tight regulatory scrutiny in recent months, with Beijing fearing that they have become too large and powerful. Government has also become more protective of consumer data.
Earlier this week China published the final draft of its new anti-monopoly legislation, which specifically targets internet giants such as Alibaba and Tencent. In November, Alibaba suffered the cancelation of the IPO of its financial subsidiary Ant Group, and received notification of an official probe on Dec. 24.
While the arrest of a Tencent executive might appear to be yet another means to put pressure on the group, it is not clear that this case will have far-reaching impact. All Chinese companies are routinely required to share information with the Chinese state, and tech companies operating within mainland China already employ thousands of staff to conduct moderation and censorship on behalf of government departments. And Tencent’s statement appears to distance the company from both the executive and the allegedly corrupt official.