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Technology As Chinese authorities expand use of health tracking apps, privacy concerns grow

12:25  26 may  2020
12:25  26 may  2020 Source:   reuters.com

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China 's health tracking QR codes, which have played a key part in the Other local authorities , while excited by the potential to expand use of the health codes, have not Whether Hangzhou is successful in its proposal and just how much privacy people in China will have

Chinese city proposes permanent health tracking with a score based on drinking and exercise During the height of China 's coronavirus epidemic, the use of digital barcodes or QR codes, became A Chinese city has unveiled proposals to permanently track a person's health through an app that

By Josh Horwitz and Brenda Goh

Security guard holds up a QR code for a health app in Beijing © Reuters/THOMAS PETER Security guard holds up a QR code for a health app in Beijing

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's health tracking QR codes, which have played a key part in the country's successful containment of the coronavirus, now look set to play a much broader role in daily life as local authorities dream up new uses for the technology.

a group of people looking at a cell phone: Delivery driver presents the status of his health app in Beijing © Reuters/THOMAS PETER Delivery driver presents the status of his health app in Beijing

Embedded in the popular WeChat and Alipay smartphone apps, the codes use self-reported and automatically collected travel and medical data to give people a red, yellow or green rating indicating the likelihood of having the virus.

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Although authorities have yet to make the health codes compulsory, in many cities As Chinese people resume traveling under the lifting of lockdown measures, another problem has arisen: not all cities and provinces recognize each other's health codes. There are also concerns about privacy .

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a group of people sitting at a table: Woman enters details into her health app after scanning a QR code in Beijing © Reuters/THOMAS PETER Woman enters details into her health app after scanning a QR code in Beijing

To walk around freely, people in China must have a green rating and since February they have been asked to present their health QR codes to gain entry into restaurants, parks and other venues.

The codes had so far met with little public resistance, seen as a necessary tool to get the economy back up on its feet again.

Or that was the case until the eastern city of Hangzhou proposed on Friday permanently assigning each of its residents a coloured health badge and giving them a score from 0-100 based on their medical records and lifestyle habits.

Images published by Hangzhou's health authority showed people would be rated on how much they exercised, their eating and drinking habits, whether they smoked and even how much they slept the night before.

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But privacy experts raised concerns about how governments were using the data, how it was being stored From Israel to South Korea to China , governments around the world are using technology to track the coronavirus Digital barcodes on mobile apps highlight the health status of individuals.

That was seen as far too invasive, setting off a fire storm of criticism from thousands of users on Twitter-like Weibo and fuelling debate about privacy and data security - a debate that comes just as China is poised to enshrine individuals' rights to privacy and personal data for the first time as part of the country's first civil code.

"My physical health is private, why would you want to collect information and build a leaderboard?" said one commentator on Weibo in reaction to the Hangzhou proposal.

Online personal data is easily bought and sold in China and the likelihood of personal information being hacked was also a major concern.

"Why would it be my company's business if I'm seeing a doctor?" said another commentator.

Ma Ce, a lawyer based in Hangzhou who tracks policy law, said users had the right to demand that data collected to prevent the spread of the coronavirus be destroyed once the crisis is over due to the risk of it being leaked out.

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Dozens of tracking apps for smartphones are being used or developed to help contain the coronavirus pandemic. But there are worries about privacy and But there are worries about privacy and hastily written software. Gov. Douglas Burgum of North Dakota asked a friend, a software engineer, whether

The WHO's position regarding China has renewed a longstanding debate about whether the international organization, founded 72 years ago, is sufficiently independent to allow it to fulfill its purpose.

a person sitting at a table using a laptop: Delivery driver holds up his smartphone to present the status of his health app in Beijing © Reuters/THOMAS PETER Delivery driver holds up his smartphone to present the status of his health app in Beijing

Other local authorities, while excited by the potential to expand use of the health codes, have not gone as far as Hangzhou.

The southern city of Guangzhou has expanded its health code platform to include services that help residents book online consultations with local hospitals and buy face masks. Fujian province has said it wants to expand its QR codes to encompass medical treatment and drug purchases.

a group of people sitting at a table: Delivery driver has his temperature checked after presenting the status of his health app in Beijing © Reuters/THOMAS PETER Delivery driver has his temperature checked after presenting the status of his health app in Beijing

Whether Hangzhou is successful in its proposal and just how much privacy people in China will have post-pandemic are questions still very much up in the air.

On one hand, the new rights which will enable individuals to take action if data is leaked are set to be approved after deliberations by China's annual meeting of parliament which began on Friday.

Search engine giant Baidu CEO Robin Li and other delegates to the meeting have also made a number of proposals - including that data collected during the epidemic should be destroyed after it ends or that rules should be put in place on how to manage the data.

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COVID-19 apps are mobile software applications that use digital tracking to aid contact tracing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e. the process of identifying persons ("contacts"

Having reportedly contained the virus within China , concerns have grown in recent weeks over a so-called On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded to the crisis, promising that provincial authorities would attach "great importance" to the concerns of some

a man sitting at a table: Delivery driver holds up his smartphone to present the status of his health app in Beijing © Reuters/THOMAS PETER Delivery driver holds up his smartphone to present the status of his health app in Beijing

But at the same time, it looks like health QR codes and their expanded use are here to stay as China presses ahead with national standards so that problems with data sharing and people travelling between cities and provinces can be avoided.

"In the future, the 'health code' has a wide range of application scenarios," state news agency Xinhua said last week.

(Reporting by Josh Horwitz and Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Keith Zhai in Singapore, Huizhong Wu and Cate Cadell in Beijing and the Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

Top Gamer Ninja Deletes TikTok Over Privacy Concerns .
The Chinese-owned short video social network is having a summer to forget as major social media influencers begin to look for alternatives."I have deleted the TikTok app off all my devices. Hopefully a less intrusive company (data farming) that isn’t owned by China can recreate the concept legally, such funny and amazing content on the app from influencers,” Ninja tweeted to his 6 million followers.

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