A web application has been launched by advocacy groups and a Hong Kong researcher to give the public a better understanding of what exactly internet providers and mobile phone companies know about them, how they use that data and who they share it with.

The site, Access My Info, was launched on Tuesday morning to enable citizens to protect their privacy and personal information. The site generates a letter to internet service providers and mobile phone companies within a few clicks, for users to send to relevant privacy officers of the companies to request data about themselves.

The letter which the app produces can usually be sent to your target by email. But a few high-tech companies, including CSL/1010, China Mobile and SmarTone, insist on paper through the post.

Access My Info
Photo: Access My Info

The mission of the project was to further simplify the process of accessing the data and raise public awareness of personal data protection and its importance.

Surge of complaints 

Advocacy officer Yu Yee-ting at In-media – a Hong Kong organisation involved in the project – told HKFP that there had been a rising number of complaints to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, of which “a large number is about personal data requests”.

In 2015, the Office received a total of 18,456 enquiries, representing an increase of seven percent compared with 2014. Fourteen percent of the enquiries were concerned with data access requests, 12 percent with employment, 11.9 percent with use of personal data in direct marketing, and 6.5 percent with collection or use of Hong Kong identity card numbers or copies.

The site provides a legal way for the public to access their personal data under the Personal Data Privacy Ordinance, which requires companies that collect and use personal data to provide individuals with access to their personal information on request within 40 days, for little to no cost.

The tool has been designed to run entirely within the user’s web browser, so that the information users put into the form stays on their computers and will not be shared with the project.

The companies that Access My Info can generate letters to.
The companies that Access My Info can generate letters to.

The project also hopes to gain insight into how personal data is collected, processed and shared in Hong Kong.

Users are invited to volunteer for a survey about the response they received from the company in question. The answers will be aggregated with others to help the groups better understand what happens when people file the requests.

The project was based on an original version developed in Canada by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and advocacy group Open Effect.

It was localised by Hong Kong-based groups In-media and Keyboard Frontline and Dr. Lokman Tsui, an Assistant Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication of Chinese University of Hong Kong and a Faculty Associate with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.