In China, apps for tracking anti-COVID are already everywhere

En Chine, les applis de traçage anti-COVID sont déjà partout

BEIJING | They worry about in the West, but make little waves in China: applications of tracking of the COVID-19 are ubiquitous in this asian country where the authorities are already gathering, largely of the personal data.

The inhabitants have not had the choice of these software have been launched without their consent. But in their majority, the Chinese do not seem to oppose this system that follows the trace.

“The epidemic, it is a particular context. Then disclose my travel does not bother me. The human life, this is the most important,” says AFP Debora Lu, 30 years old, a worker in Shanghai.

What are these applications? The one designed by the government is based on the location data provided by the operators and scrutinizes the movements of the previous 14 days — especially if we went in a risk zone where one has crossed a patient of the COVID-19.

A host of similar applications coexist in China, where 4 633 deaths were recorded.

In Beijing for example, the mini-program “Health Kit” does not use geolocation, but other sources of information, train tickets, plane, identity checks at the points of access to the capital or screening tests.

Common applications: after downloading, the user types his / her name, id number, phone and sometimes his photo. The program then issues a “code of health” green (no problem), yellow (obligation to place themselves in quarantine at home) or red (quarantine in a closed hotel, provided for this purpose).

“I guess that more than 99 % of the population think that it is a good method,” says Li Song, 37 years old, actor in Shanghai.

“It’s not as if hackers steal your code of credit card”, abounds Charlotte Wang, a 33-year-old accountant in Beijing.


Geolocation allows to automate the search of people who have been in contact with sick people. It also facilitates the recovery of work and outputs. The green code is used to pass in the buildings, restaurants, railway stations and shops, proving that there is a priori strong.

“It is a cultural difference between China and the West,” notes Cui Xiaohui, a professor in the Centre for research on the mégadonnées, and artificial intelligence at the university of Wuhan — a city in which seemed to be the coronavirus. “Most Chinese are willing to sacrifice a little of their private life, if it really is for their health.”

In France, opinion is divided on the application StopCovid tracing via Bluetooth, less intrusive than the location, and that would allow patients to alert anonymously people cross.

In China, the apps do not obtain their own personal data. These are mainly interfaces to view the health codes. The authorities have already collected the upstream information via telephone operators, health services, police, etc.

The mayor of Beijing ensures that they “are only used for the fight against the epidemic”. And said do not have access to the family name, and the last two digits of the id number.

“But in the end, who has access to these data? They are at the mercy of a pirate? This is the heart of the problem for the people”, point Cui Xiaohui. “The State itself will not sell this information. But there is always the risk that a servant does for his personal benefit”.

Leaks frequently

With the explosion of online commerce, the Chinese are increasingly vigilant in guarding against data leakage. Telephone numbers, identity, location, or preferences of purchases are routinely recorded by the companies.

“China has no law or specific regulations on the protection of personal information,” points out Zhou Lina, a teacher at the University of posts and telecommunications, Beijing, and a specialist in data protection.

The legislative arsenal has, however, expanded in recent years, she says, with a law on cyber security (2017) limiting the abuse of the giants of the web.

But these texts do not encroach much on the ability of the government to access personal data, said Jeremy Daum, a specialist in chinese law at the Yale university (United States).

“During a criminal investigation, for example, the police has enormous power to collect information”, he noted. “The law presumes that the internal controls are sufficient to prevent abuse of the State.”

These applications chinese don’t really change much for the access to personal data.

“Already there are surveillance cameras everywhere. When you use your credit card, transportation, smartphone with geolocation, we can already know where you are”, said professor Cui.

“It’s just that with this system of health code, the State may put the hands on it more easily.”

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