China Gives Citizens Code To Tackle Coronavirus

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Chinese government has making citizens to use an app that dictates them about whether to go to public place or not.
  • The app also secretly shares the information about user with police.

To save economy from going down, China is encouraging people to work despite the coronavirus outbreak. The Chinese government has started a bold mass experiment in using data to regulate citizens’ lives. The government has made it compulsory for citizens to use software on their smartphones that dictates whether they should be quarantined or be allowed into malls, subways, and other public spaces.

The analysis of software’s code by American media revealed that system shares information of a likely patient with the police, setting a template for new forms of automated social control that could persist long after the epidemic subsides. Called the Alipay Health Code official news media of China, it was first introduced in the eastern city of Hangzhou. This project has been started by the local government with the help of Ant Financial, a sister company of the e-commerce giant Alibaba.

When Chinese citizens sign up for app through Ant’s popular wallet app, Alipay, they are assigned a color code — green, red or yellow — that indicates their health status. Being in use in 200 cities, the system is being rolled out nationwide. However, so far there is no official word about how system classifies people. Green color allows app user to travel freely. Yellow color means that app user needs to stay at home for one week. Red color means two-week quarantine.

The moment user grants access to personal data to the software, a piece of the program labeled “reportInfoAndLocationToPolice” sends the person’s location, city name and an identifying code number to a server. The software does not tells users that it has shared their information with police. According to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, and an official police social media account, confirm that law enforcement authorities are a crucial partner in the system’s development.

Concerns of citizens being addressed

Downplaying the concerns of citizens, Ant Financial’s general counsel, Leiming Chen, said that Ant required all third-party developers to adhere to data security related requirements and privacy requirements. These developers included firms or people offering health code services. He said “The collaboration between private and public sectors in epidemic control is a common global practice.”

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