For Didi, once hailed as an innovator and disrupter in China’s sedate transportation sector, it’s a quick fall from grace. The company was considered the pride of China’s feisty and valuable startup scene in 2016 when it defeated its US rival, Uber, and bought the company’s Chinese operations. At the time, executives promised that the data collected would be used to resolve traffic jams and eventually help develop driverless cars.
As Beijing has gained more control over internet companies like Didi, it has sought to shape a private sector more in line with the Communist Party’s focus on political security and achieving its policy goals. Popular perceptions of China’s technology sector, once an emblem of future achievements, also seem to have changed.
After the sentence was announced, a number of professors and tech commentators took to Weibo to argue for even harsher sentences.
Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, called the revelations of Didi’s violations “truly shocking!” Didi ignored national security, ignored national laws and ignored citizens’ privacy, he added. Others went further, questioning whether a company that jeopardized national security should be allowed to exist at all.
In the short term, the government is likely to give in to Didi, allowing it to reinstate its apps in stores. But the company will still need to demonstrate that it has addressed regulator concerns about data security and other issues, said Linghao Bao, an analyst with Trivium China, a China-focused policy research team.
“Big tech platforms are getting a break because the economy isn’t doing too well. Regulators are shifting from a campaign-style crackdown to more rules-based governance,” he said. “But technical regulation is there to stay in the long run.”