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China launches cybersecurity investigation into academic research database

China’s internet watchdog has launched a cybersecurity investigation into the country’s largest online academic research database, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), intensifying Beijing’s scrutiny of the firm more than a month after it was put under an antitrust inquiry.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) initiated its investigation on the grounds that the privately-owned CNKI holds a large amount of personal information and important data covering areas that include national defence, telecommunications and finance, according to a statement from the agency on Friday.

CNKI also has “sensitive information” related to the country’s major projects, significant technological achievements and development of core technologies, the CAC said. It did not provide additional details.

Founded in 1999 by China’s elite Tsinghua University and its subsidiaries, CNKI has more than 90 per cent of the published academic journals in mainland China in its archives, and about 40 per cent of materials available for subscription are exclusive to the platform, according to its website.

The Beijing-based company has long been accused of abusing its monopoly power over access to published academic papers through hefty subscription fees. The excessive charges prompted the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the country’s top research body, to suspend its subscription to CNKI in April this year.

Before CAS, at least six Chinese universities had already stopped using CNKI’s service because of substantial fee increases over the past decade, according to local media reports.

The State Administration for Market Regulation early in May said it initiated an antitrust investigation into CNKI. The firm’s parent is Shanghai-listed Tsinghua Tongfang, a state-owned software company linked to Tsinghua University.

The CAC’s investigation of CNKI reflects the expanded regulatory purview of the agency under the Measures for Cybersecurity Review, a regulation that was jointly signed off by 13 Chinese ministerial bodies.

It is also the CAC’s first such review since the new measures took effect in February this year. In July last year, the internet watchdog started to provide an additional layer of oversight in the country’s approval process for Chinese companies going public in foreign capital markets.

That started with the agency’s review of Didi Chuxing, days after the ride-hailing giant angered Beijing with its initial public offering in New York. Subsequent cybersecurity investigations included Chinese truck hailing app operators Yunmanman and Huochebang, and online recruiting platform Boss Zhipin.

CNKI parent Tsinghua Tongfang, however, has no publicly known plans to list overseas. South China Morning Post

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