Didi resumes new customer sign-ups as China eases tech crackdown

Chinese authorities have given ride-hailing group Didi permission to sign up new customers after an investigation forced its app offline, indicating that Beijing’s crackdown on the country’s internet titans is drawing to a close as the government works to revive economic growth.

The reprieve comes after the group was forced to be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange in June last year, less than 12 months after its market debut. The opening of a regulatory probe in July 2021 ended a run of Chinese companies raising billions of dollars on Wall Street.

“For more than a year our company has earnestly co-operated with the national security review and handled seriously the problems the review found, carrying out a comprehensive rectification,” the company said in a social media post on Monday.

“With the approval of the Internet Security Review Office, new user registration on ‘Didi Chuxing’ will resume immediately,” the company said.

Days after Didi’s $4.4bn initial public offering in June 2021, domestic app stores took down more than 20 of its apps as China’s powerful internet regulator and other supervisory agencies opened investigations into the group’s data practices and protection of personal information.

Chinese regulators eventually forced the company to delist, saddling US investors with huge losses and weighing on the Japanese tech company SoftBank, the group’s largest shareholder. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) in July fined the ride-hailing group more than Rmb8bn ($1.18bn) over “serious” and “vile” breaches of the country’s data security laws.

Didi has said he will vie for a listing in Hong Kong after the conclusion of the regulatory probe. The company’s shares trade over the counter in the US.

While CAC did not comment on Didi’s resumption and its apps had not appeared in stores as of Monday evening, experts said the move probably signaled an end to the probe into the company.

“This marks an end of the special rectification period for platform companies — now there will be a normalized regulatory regime,” said an antitrust expert in Beijing, who asked not to be named.

Didi’s retrenchment has opened up competition for new players, including Cao Cao Mobility and T3 Chuxing, to fill its place.

Last week, the chair of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, Guo Shuqing, told state media that efforts to “rectify the financial businesses of 14 platform companies” had “already basically finished”, with only minor issues left to resolve.

The rehabilitation of Didi, which previously had millions of drivers across China, comes as Beijing refocuses its efforts on boosting the economy after nearly three years of Covid-19 curbs.

Guo said the government would help its internet groups “fully display their capabilities in bolstering growth, job creation and global competitiveness”.

While regulators retreat from the heavy-handed fines and tough sanctions that symbolized their crackdown on the country’s biggest tech companies, the agencies have not indicated they will entirely loosen up control of the industry.

Instead, China’s internet regulator has moved to take small equity stakes in many of the biggest companies and is installing government officials as board members to supervise their operations, including at Alibaba and Tencent.

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