abusesaffiliationarrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upattack-typeburgerchevron-downchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upClock iconclosedeletedevelopment-povertydiscriminationdollardownloademailenvironmentexternal-linkfacebookfiltergenderglobegroupshealthC4067174-3DD9-4B9E-AD64-284FDAAE6338@1xinformation-outlineinformationinstagraminvestment-trade-globalisationissueslabourlanguagesShapeCombined Shapeline, chart, up, arrow, graphLinkedInlocationmap-pinminusnewsorganisationotheroverviewpluspreviewArtboard 185profilerefreshIconnewssearchsecurityPathStock downStock steadyStock uptagticktooltiptwitteruniversalityweb

27 Feb 2020


China: Tech companies launch new tracking features to curb coronavirus outbreak, fuels debate over privacy and use of data

“China rolls out fresh data collection campaign to combat coronavirus”, 26 February 2020

China’s local governments are ramping up surveillance efforts with new data collection campaigns to better trace residents’ moves in public areas, seeking to curb the coronavirus outbreak but heightening privacy concerns. At least 15 provinces and cities [in China] with a combined population of over 358 million have announced such “big data” measures… adding to a host of monitoring tools already being used, such as facial recognition and phone data tracking…

Some regions are also instructing residents to use newly launched features by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Alipay and Tencent Holdings Ltd’s WeChat apps. Users fill in a questionnaire to obtain a obtain colour-based QR code which then acts as guidance at checkpoints as to whether the person should be quarantined or let through…

Authorities say the tools allows them to more accurately and quickly find infected people especially as millions of people resume work after an extended holiday.

But the additional measures are fuelling debate over privacy and the extent and uses of the data repository China is building on its citizens…

“Of course governments have the responsibility to protect public health and safety but these measures have to balance other rights as well, including privacy rights,” said Maya Wang, China senior researcher at Human Rights Watch…

Some government officials acknowledge privacy concerns and have offered reassurances.

Liu Yuewen, who heads Yunnan province’s department of public security’s big data expert group, said individuals’ privacy would be protected, and the data would be destroyed when efforts to control the epidemic end…

It was unclear whether all the data collected goes to a central depository or was analysed on a national level, as local authorities often used their own systems made by different companies.

The Binhai New Area in the coastal city of Tianjin, for instance, uses a platform made by Tianjin Teda Smart City Technology Co. Some of those used in the southern province of Guangxi are made by China-ASEAN Information Harbor, which describes itself on its website as a state-backed technology platform created to aid China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

Alipay created its coloured QR code feature with the Hangzhou government, while the health tracking feature in Tencent’s WeChat was launched in collaboration with a division of China’s National Development and Reform Council (NDRC).

Alipay deferred questions to various government departments who provide and operate the services, saying it does not have access to the related data.

Tencent said none of its efforts to fight the virus involved the real-time tracking of people or virus movements.

Third-party developers, such as those who offer health code services via WeChat Mini Programs, are required to adhere to the platform’s data security requirements and anonymised user data was only accessible by the mini program’s developer, Tencent said…