Ant Financial has denied claims that it covertly raided Equifax — the U.S. credit firm that was hit by a hack last year — to grab information, including code, confidential data and documents to help recruit staff for its own credit scoring service.
The Alibaba affiliate, which is valued at over $100 billion, launched Sesame Credit in China in 2015, and a report this week from The Wall Street Journal suggests that it leaned heavily on Equifax to do so. Ant Financial hired China-born Canadian David Zou from Equifax and the Journal claims that Zou looked up employee information to gauge potential hires and squirreled away confidential documents via his personal email account.
Ant was said to have offered Chinese staff at Equifax lucrative raises — reportedly tripling their salaries — with a focus on those who “provided instructions on specific Equifax information… if they jumped ship.” Apparently, however, only Zou did.
Zou, for this part, denies the claims. He said he looked up Equifax team members to help with work on his project in Canada, and forward information to his email account in order to continue his work when he went home.
Ant Financial went a step further with its own denial — from the firm’s statement:
Ant Financial did not use Equifax intellectual property or trade secrets, including code, algorithms or methodology in the development of our credit rating product. Ant Financial has found absolutely no evidence of Equifax software, data or code having been transferred to our systems.
We did not directly or indirectly encourage potential job applicants to obtain Equifax intellectual property or trade secrets. This would be a violation of Ant Financial’s Code of Business Conduct and we would take immediate action against any employee found engaging in this behavior. Further, we have specific agreements with our third-party recruiters that prohibit them from violating intellectual property rights of any parties. If any recruiter is found to have conducted such activities, we will stop accepting candidate referrals from them and may take legal action against them.
Ant said the Journal’s report is “full of innuendo based on disjointed facts and coincidence in timing.”
Beyond Ant, the report claims Equifax firm was also concerned when an unnamed Chinese firm swapped members of its delegation in the run-up to a meeting, a tactic that is apparently common among potential cases of espionage.
The company had been in contact with the FBI, but ultimately Equifax decided against pushing the matter. The Journal’s report also suggested that federal investigators backed down because they sensed that Equifax didn’t believe it had information that Chinese spies would be keen to get hold of. In addition, it hadn’t lost consumer information. Ultimately, of course, that leaked out when the firm was hacked last year.
“The story not only promotes hostility against a specific company, but also paints an overall narrative that maligns Chinese companies as a whole, and further promotes culturally divisive perceptions of ethnic Chinese people in America,” Ant said in its statement, which is attributed to the company’s general counsel, Leiming Chen.