How the Chinese (extreme) anti-Covid tracking app works

 by Mario Seminerio

How the Chinese coronavirus tracking app works. The article by Mario Seminerio

The Chinese approach to the so-called Zero Covid makes use of tracking technology and pervasive controls, also based on profiling of citizens and their behavior. For example, those who go to the pharmacy to take a cold medication can only do so by means of prior identification. After such a purchase, the insertion of data into the system determines that, at the time of entering a public place, a noisy alarm starts from the victim's mobile phone, which causes him to empty around, and the order to undergo tests for Covid.

If the test is positive, the app reports a red code that forces you to quarantine at your home or in an official facility. The problem is that it seems that "someone" has decided to use the tracking system for other purposes. It happened in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan.


A few hundred citizens, who arrived in the city to protest against the blocking of their savings by some rural banks in financial difficulty, as soon as they arrived at the station and at the time of reading the QR Code that was supposed to authorize the go-ahead, received the red code report and were taken by the police to quarantine hotels,  to be then put back on the return train the next day, in violation of the rules on confinement. In the aftermath of returning home, the code went green again.

Such situations also occurred during protests in front of the headquarters of the bank regulator also in Zhengzhou, following the stalemate in the construction of buildings for which citizens had already paid advances. After the protests on social media, the pass went green again.

There have also been tales of real "virtuosity" of digital surveillance. For example, a citizen who has never been to Zhenghzhou to protest but deposits the disputed banks, scans the QR code received by phone from an acquaintance, and immediately receives the red code; his wife does the same but nothing happens, perhaps because she is not the depositor of that bank.

After the protests, the regime decided to intervene and sanction the local authorities of Zhengzhou, on the grounds that in no case should the health app be used for different purposes, to avoid undermining the credibility of the health tracking system. Goodness them.

Even assuming an excess of zeal on the part of local authorities in the management of systems and databases, which evidently have the possibility of being managed even at a decentralized level, and even admitting that the central authorities have actually realized the danger of similar casual and improper uses of the tracking system, the potential for social surveillance to which China is heading remains very high. Because, as you know, there personal data is something too important to leave to those who produce them.

(Excerpt from an article published in Phastidio; here the full version)