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China detains graduate who allegedly stole data for website rating students’ attractiveness

<i>Shen Bohan/dpa/picture alliance/SIPA/FILE</i><br/>Renmin University in Beijing
Shen Bohan/dpa/picture alliance/SIPA/FILE
Renmin University in Beijing

By Nectar Gan and Candice Zhu, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — Police in China have detained a college graduate suspected of stealing university data to create a website rating the attractiveness of his fellow students.

The 25-year-old, identified by police by his surname Ma, is a graduate of the prestigious Renmin University in Beijing, according to a police statement on Monday.

Multiple online posts over the weekend accused him of stealing the personal information of students from the university’s database while he was studying there.

The posts alleged that Ma used the data to create a website that rates the physical appearance of both undergraduate and graduate students. Screenshots of the website, which has since been shut down, show profiles of the students, with their names, student IDs, dates and places of birth listed alongside their photos – and their assigned scores.

Screenshots of Ma’s now-deleted social media posts suggest the platform had been in operation since 2020.

The screenshots were first shared online Saturday on Renmin University’s student discussion board.

The allegations sparked outrage online, with many calling for a police investigation. The incident became a trending topic on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, attracting hundreds of millions of views.

Some users have compared Ma to Mark Zuckerberg. In 2013, before Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to start Facebook, he created a website called FaceMash, which allowed visitors to compare Harvard students’ pictures and decide who was more attractive.

Zuckerberg later took down the site after Havard’s Administrative Board accused him of breaching security and violating privacy.

On Sunday, Renmin University said in a statement it had contacted the police and was cooperating with them to look into the incident.

“The school strongly condemns behaviors that violate personal privacy and endanger information security,” the statement said.

Police in Beijing’s Haidian district, where the university is located, said in the statement Monday they “attach great importance” to the protection of personal information and vowed to “severely crack down on related crimes.”

Following the police announcement, a staffer at Renmin University told the state-run China News Weekly that the leaked information spanned several years, from 2014 to 2020. Ma had been suspended from his job, the report said.

On Chinese social media, some users have urged universities to learn a lesson and enhance network security of their servers.

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