China data intelligence firm TalkingData eyes HK expansion

June 19, 2018 17:46
Leo Cui Xiao-bo, co-founder and CEO of TalkingData, said over 100,000 Chinese app developers now rely on his platform to track their app metrics, analyze user data and behavior, and improve monetization. Photo: TalkingData

Driven by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for the enhanced development of the big data industry, China has seen a boom of startups with big data and analytics as their platforms.

Beijing-based TalkingData, a leading third-party data intelligence solutions provider, has introduced artificial intelligence technologies such as machine learning into the processing of mass data, aiming to help enterprises achieve a data-driven digital transformation.

The fast-growing data firm has already reached a "unicorn" valuation of US$1 billion. And it is now planning to expand to Hong Kong, setting up an R&D and business unit in the city, according to Leo Cui Xiao-bo, its co-founder and chief executive.

Given its coverage of more than 2 billion smart devices, more than 100,000 Chinese app developers now rely on TalkingData to track their app metrics, analyze user data and behavior, and improve monetization, the firm said. 

Its clients include internet firms such as Tencent, Baidu and Didi Chuxing as well as corporations like China UnionPay, China Merchant Bank, Bank of China, Ping An group, and Xiaomi.

In Hong Kong and Macau, TalkingData is set to apply its real-time mobile data monitoring platform, which can track the flow of people in specific areas, Cui told the Hong Kong Economic Journal in an interview.

He said the platform can be used to accurately observe the impact of mainland tourists on local businesses and traffic, for example.

“It can be applied to Southeast Asia as well... [These countries] also need a dynamic monitoring of local tourism," Cui said.

TalkingData also uses big data analytics to analyze the attributes of a population, thus making it a useful tool in urban planning.

Asked about the source of its data, Cui said most of it comes from mobile internet data supplied by telecommunications companies and Chinese internet firms such as Tencent and Baidu. Government agencies also provide data obtained from utility services such as electricity, water supply and public transport.

The startup worked on a population study with the Beijing municipal government, collecting and analyzing data which revealed, among other things, the most popular smartphone brands in a given area, the occupations of the users, and the buildings where they are working.

Many see China as a “Wild West” when it comes to big data and artificial intelligence because privacy protection is lax. 

When asked about the issue, Cui said his firm does not collect personal and sensitive information such as names and phone numbers, while raw data must go through data cleaning, aggregation and anonymization before further processing.

But when it comes to privacy risks incurred in the application of big data analytics, “the [Chinese] market is quite bold, after all, many of these applications are a kind of an exploration”, he said. 

China has positioned big data development as a focus of its national strategy to become a cyber superpower, helping drive investors’ enthusiasm toward the industry.

Cui said that despite the huge strides the country has taken in the field of big data analytics, there is still a huge gap between China and other technologically advanced countries such as the United States and those in Europe.

“While media is singing praises to big data analytics technology in the country, the majority of the core technologies and research studies in the field still remain in Europe and the US,” he said.

He also pointed out there is a chronic lack of investment in technology innovation and R&D in China’s tech sector, owing to the country’s “imperfect mechanism” for intellectual property rights and technology patents protection.

“When a firm has created something new [in technology], there will be dozens of rivals copying and entering the market, bringing in cut-throat competition and squeezing the profits,” Cui said.

With firms copying technology from others and eating up market share by burning cash, Cui said it is still a struggle for a tech company in China to stay focused on R&D and innovation.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 19

Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal