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At China’s World Internet Conference last November, a group of the country’s major universities and a government think tank issued a document laying out the principles of cyber sovereignty. A key concept underpinning the short paper (link in Chinese) was the free flow of data in cyberspace. Beijing pinpointed that same concept in its new data security law, which takes effect in September.
But the free flow of data is circumscribed by another principle (link in Chinese): the secure flow of data. And the two can be in conflict. For example, a Chinese company may amass troves of user data that criss-cross servers worldwide, potentially posing national security concerns for Beijing if the data fall into the hands of an adversary.
That conflict is now playing out in real time, as the Chinese government dramatically intensifies its crackdown on domestic tech platforms, most notably ride-hailing app Didi. The company refutes allegations that it hands over user and road data to the US, but on July 4 regulators ordered the app removed from China’s app stores, just days after Didi’s blockbuster listing in New York. The ban follows a cybersecurity review spearheaded by China’s cyberspace administration, which barred the company from new user sign-ups. Didi has since lost $15 billion in market value.
China has a strong economic incentive to promote the free flow of data: According to McKinsey, global data flows raised global GDP by over 10%. But just as Beijing’s 2016 cybersecurity law framed cybersecurity reviews as a national security issue, the new law stipulates that firms found to be mishandling “core state data” can face hefty fines, or even be ordered to cease business operations. Those tactics are aggressive, but the tension they speak to is universal. After all, former US president Donald Trump tried to ban Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat over concerns that their data would be used to spy on Americans. —Mary Hui
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Mastering debt. Almost all of the discussion surrounding the high cost of tuition in the US has focused on undergraduate education, but as Melissa Korn and Andrea Fuller report in the Wall Street Journal, master’s degree programs at elite universities are loading students with staggering levels of debt. Using education department data, Korn and Fuller show that at Columbia University, for example, graduates of its master’s film program owed a median of $180,000 in student loans yet earned less than $30,000 two years after graduation. —Oliver Staley, business and culture editor
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