Yle has determined that a list of Finnish names found in a Chinese data leak corresponds with a list in a US database.
The 799 names were released among some 2.4 million others in mid-September as part of a massive international data leak. The list was compiled by Zhenhua Data, a firm linked to the Chinese government. It was obtained by an American professor who had worked in China, Christopher Balding. He turned it over to an Australian cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0, which released it.
On Monday, Yle revealed that the list matches one from a database of the US financial news and information company Dow Jones.
The firm, which owns the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and other publications, is a subsidiary of News Corp, founded by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Yle research shows that Finnish material was primarily copied from the US database. Personal data of the persons featuring in the database appear to have been culled from open sources such as social media and news articles.
Zhenhua Data referred to its data set as Oversea Key Information Database (OKIDB). Some news reports suggested that it showed China’s ability to identify and track key figures around the world.
The database includes information on influential people and their associates, including tens of thousands each in the US, UK and Australia.
Cabinet ministers and white-collar criminals
Yle has seen the list of Finns, who are divided into three categories – in exactly the same way as they are in the Dow Jones database.
Of the Finnish names, 250 have the designation ‘Politically Exposed Person’. These include politicians, including some current cabinet ministers, and other influential figures in society.
Twenty-one others have the label ‘Special Interest Person’. Many of these are well-known criminals convicted of white-collar and drug offences.
The largest number of Finns, 523, bear the designation ‘Relative or Close Associate’.
Yle has confirmed that all but one of the Finnish individuals on the Zhenhua list are also in the Dow Jones database. The one difference may be because the Chinese data is based on an older version of the Dow Jones database.
The information on the Finnish people was most likely copied in late 2017, based on timestamps and the dates of linked material.
- The investigation has been conducted based on the names in the Finnish and Danish lists. Yle has not seen the Zhenhua material in its entirety.
- Yle got access to the Dow Jones database via the assistance of an anonymous source.
- Yle checked via name searches that all the names with only a few exceptions were found on both the Zhenhua data leak and the Dow Jones dataset.
- It is possible that the Australian Internet 2.0 firm removed some of the data from the dataset before it sent the material on to other media, including Yle.
- The Chinese material has, in addition to the Finnish and Danish lists, information about six Finnish and six Danish people in different tables. These names have not been investigated further. The data includes source citation pointing to the Crunchbase business dataset and the open access database Wikidata.
EDIT The headline originally read "Yle finds that Chinese watch list including 799 Finnish names was copied from US database". Bullet points added 29.9.2020.