In China, the app decides whether you can leave your home. Do you want the same?


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Coronavirus continues its "journey" on our planet – now it is even difficult to name countries that do not reveal a single case of infection among the population (the main thing is that Greenland still holds). However, the epicenter of all this shame has not disappeared, and China remains where it takes fairly strict measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus. One possibility is the Alipay Health Code system. No, this is not a payment system with which you can receive medical care in paid clinics. Rather, this is George Orwell's terrible nightmare because the tool is used by the authorities to control Chinese citizens.

People receive QR codes on their cell phones while volunteers check their temperature before they hit the market in Kunming, Yunnan Province, south China.

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1 What is the Alipay Health Code?
2 How China observed coronavirus patients
3 What is happening in China now?
4 How the Chinese handle the Alipay Health Code

What is the Alipay Health Code?

In fact, this system has (almost) nothing to do with health. This is the area of ​​Alipay, a mobile application that “happens to be” the most popular payment method in China and is installed on the smartphone of many Chinese. Citizens of 200 cities in China are required to join the system (and the number is only growing). The user downloads the application (if not already done) and provides access to personal information. It sends its location and place of residence, which are uploaded to state servers. Doesn't that sound right? However, this is not the worst and most surprising.

After the user has sent all the data, the application assigns one of the color QR codes – green, yellow or red. If a citizen has received a green code, he can move without restrictions. if yellow – should stay at home for a week. And if you receive a red code, it is guaranteed to be quarantined for two weeks. This has obviously been done so that potential virus carriers do not come into contact with healthy people who have been assigned a green code.

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QR code in the Alipay app. The green color allows the owner to move freely

The idea seems pretty good, but no one knows which algorithm the user is assigned to this or that code. Nobody (other than the makers of this system) knows exactly how it works and why residents of the same house can get a yellow and green code immediately. Neither the company nor Chinese officials explained in detail how the system classifies people. This caused fear and confusion among those who were ordered to isolate themselves, and they have no idea why.

And some Chinese people generally got a red code with no symptoms of a coronavirus, NYT writes. It is simply impossible to remove such a marker without passing the two-week quarantine.

How China monitors coronavirus patients

According to the release, it is now impossible in some cities in China to move around without this code. In Hangzhou, which has become a pilot area for the Alipay Health Code, you have to constantly show your code to government officials – for example, when entering the subway or guarding a large supermarket.

In addition, scanned QR codes are sent to the server, which transfers information about a person's movement. So the system determines the movement path of the citizens. It is also linked to city surveillance systems, ticket booking and other electronic services.

A Times survey found that the portion of the program labeled "reportInfoAndLocationToPolice" sends the person's location, name, and identification code number to the server as soon as a user of the software grants access to personal information. The software does not make it clear whether it is connected to the police system. However, law enforcement was one of the initiators of the development of the system.

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Although Chinese Internet companies often exchange data with the government, the process is rarely as direct. There is something similar in the U.S. The disease control and prevention centers use Amazon and Facebook apps to track the spread of the corona virus and then share information about users with the police. But nobody forces citizens to install incomprehensible software with unknown functionality on their smartphones.

See also – A face mask can increase your risk of coronavirus infection

What is happening now in China?

Across the country, employees at train stations and outside of residential buildings record names, national identification numbers, contact information, and details of recent trips. In some cities, residents now have to register their phone numbers using the app to use public transportation. The developers of the Alipay Health Code say that the system uses large amounts of data to automatically draw conclusions as to whether someone is at risk of infection. It sounds smart and beautiful, but … incomprehensible.

And that shouldn't make it easier for 25-year-old Vanessa Wong, who works in Hangzhou but is stuck in her hometown in Hubei Province for a few weeks. She has no symptoms of coronavirus. However, she received a red QR code, and her employer and the administration of the Hangzhou residential complex require that people have a green code so that they can get permission to return.

How do the Chinese relate to the Alipay Health Code?

Hangzhou officials acknowledged the concerns raised by the system. At a recent press conference, they asked citizens to report disruptions and inaccuracies to the authorities. But who makes it easier now? Thousands of citizens who accidentally received a red code? Barely. Share your opinion on this system in our telegram chat.

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Instructions for using the Alipay Health Code at the entrance to Hangzhou subway station. The QR code on the marker can be scanned to configure the software.

The problem is that the government is essentially getting another tool to keep an eye on people that is so raw that the programming project becomes more holistic in the first year. A resident of China said her code was red for a day, even though she had no symptoms, and then changed to green for inexplicable reasons. The hotline support call did not answer.

And yet she prefers this system.

Green code – travel freely. Red or yellow – report immediately.

If we had to use this system endlessly, it would be crazy – a big headache, ”she said. "But it makes sense during an epidemic."

And while many Chinese people perceive their privacy in this way, systems like the Alipay Health Code will continue to evolve.

Alipay already has all of our data. So what are we afraid of?

It is interesting what this Chinese resident would say if she hadn't lost the red code but had stayed two weeks.