Japan-based messaging app provider Line vigorously defended its practice of handling personal user data outside its domestic market, in a response to rising concerns from media and government officials related to links with Chinese companies.

Line provided a statement after local media reported it had failed to notify users a China-based affiliate had been granted access to its user database, a potential breach of Japanese privacy legislation requiring companies to specify the countries they transfer data to.

The messaging service provider emphasised there was no “unauthorised access or information leakage”, blaming a lack of clarity about its data handling practices and pledging to take “further proactive measures and disclose information” in accordance with legislation changes in each market, including listing country names.

Newspaper The Japan Times reported engineers at a Chinese company had gained access to users’ names, email addresses and phone numbers in 2018 after being granted access to Line’s servers as part of an AI technology development project.

Reuters wrote Line faced a probe by Japanese authorities to determine if it had breached data protection laws and could order the company to improve its practices.

Line, which was integrated with SoftBank Corp’s Z Holdings at the start of this month, is the most popular messaging service in Japan, with 86 million monthly active users at end-Q3 2020.