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China's fintech boom puts vast personal data within state's reach

Smartphone payments, used by 98%, bring convenience at cost of privacy

Sesame Trust, a credit-scoring app linked to payment platform Alipay, evaluates users based on information including their payment history.

SHANGHAI -- China is quickly adopting financial technology, as both consumers and businesses are drawn to a slew of handy and efficient services. However, the troves of data generated could become a formidable surveillance tool in the hands of the central government.

The changes to society in the smartphone age can already be seen. In 1921, noted Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa wrote of being mobbed by dozens of rickshaw drivers shortly after stepping off the boat on a visit here. Over the following century, the basic scene remained the same, despite the shift from ships and hand-pulled carts to planes and taxis. But recently this has changed, and the throngs of drivers at the airport have diminished.

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