Because anti-virus apps will remain in China even after the pandemic

Because anti-virus apps will remain in China even after the pandemic

Official China statistics suggest that the worst of the epidemic has passed, but the government's monitoring apps are not fading away in obsolescence at all. The deepening of the News York Times

At the height of the coronavirus epidemic in China, officials made rapid use of the tracking devices in everyone's pockets – their smartphones – to identify and isolate the people who could have spread the disease. Months later, official China statistics suggest that the worst of the epidemic has passed, but the government's monitoring applications are not fading away in obsolescence at all, writes the NYT .

They are becoming a permanent device of everyday life, with the potential to be used worryingly and invasively. While technology has undoubtedly helped many workers and employers to return to their lives, on the other, it has also raised concerns in China, where people are increasingly protected against their digital privacy.

Businesses and government agencies in China have a mixed history of keeping personal information safe from hackers and leaks. The authorities have also adopted a broad vision of the use of high-tech surveillance tools in the name of public well-being.

The government's virus tracking software has collected information, including location data, about people in hundreds of cities across China. But authorities have set few limits on how this data can be used. And now, in some places, officials are loading their applications with new features, hoping that software isn't just an emergency measure. Zhou Jiangyong, the secretary of the Communist Party of the Hangzhou Eastern Technology Pole, said this month that the city app should be an "intimate guardian of health" for residents, which is used often and "loved so much that it is not can bear to part with it, "according to an official statement.

"Epidemic prevention and control needs the support of big data technology, but that doesn't mean that agencies and individuals can randomly collect citizens' information in the name of prevention and control," he wrote in a recent comment Li Sihui, a researcher from Wuhan's Huazhong University of Science and Technology. People in China sign up for the virus tracking system by submitting their personal information, recent travel and health status in one of the many applications.

The software uses this and other data to assign a code with a color – green, yellow or red – which indicates whether the holder is at risk of infection. The authorities never explained in detail how the system decides someone's color code, which caused disorientation among people who received a yellow or red one without understanding why. In Hangzhou, where the system was first used, officials are exploring the possibility of expanding the health code to classify citizens with a "personal health index", according to a post from last week on an official social media account. It is not clear how the ranking would have been used.

But a graph in the post shows users who get a score from 0 to 100 based on how much they sleep, how many steps they take, how much they smoke and drink and other unspecified metrics.

This month, Robin Li, the leader of the Chinese research giant Baidu , proposed at a meeting of China's top political advisory body that the government create a mechanism to erase personal information collected during the pandemic. If the authorities have a specific reason to withhold the health code data after the threat has passed, then they should make these reasons clear and obtain user consent, said Lei Ruipeng, a professor of bioethics at the University of Science and Technology of Huazhong. Chinese health codes first appeared in February, the joint products of local officials and tech companies, including internet giant Tencent and Ant Financial, a sister sister to the e-commerce titan Alibaba. Within weeks, the codes have sprung up across the country.

As armies of guards, workers and volunteers began to be sent to all cities to check people's codes, apps have become essential for everyday life. They have even become an accidental tool for fighting crime. Hangzhou police announced this month that they had arrested a man who was on the run after committing a murder 24 years ago. Without a health code, he couldn't work or find a place to stay, police said. After wandering the streets for days, he made himself up. Chinese cities are now looking for different ways to keep residents glued to their virus apps. Shanghai wants its app to become a digital assistant to access local services of all kinds, not just doctors. In the inland city of Xining, the software unlocks coupons for local stores as a way to revive the economy. In Hangzhou, authorities began linking the city's app to citizens' medical records in April. This allowed residents to schedule hospital visits using the app.

(Taken from the Eprcomunicazione foreign press review)

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL on Sun, 07 Jun 2020 05:41:52 +0000.