WeChat’s Health Tracking App Feeds Into China’s Authoritarian Surveillance

August 29, 2020 Updated: August 29, 2020

Since the peak of China’s CCP virus pandemic in February, a three-color health code has ruled the lives of roughly 1 billion Chinese people, assessing whether they can move around freely or must stay in quarantine.

Enabled by the Chinese regime’s ubiquitous use of big data and overzealous attempts to stop COVID-19 spread, the mini-app rates each individual’s health with a green, yellow, and red code. The app is embedded within the super-app WeChat that citizens use for nearly all aspects of daily life, from paying for food to booking doctor’s appointments.

Authorities scan the barcode on people’s phones to check if an individual is virus-free, has had contact with virus patients, is COVID-19 positive, or exhibits symptoms of the virus.

While authorities haven’t explicitly mandated the usage of the app, the barcode must be scanned when boarding a bus or subway, checking into a hotel, entering a supermarket, and entering or leaving their residential district.

The collection and handling of sensitive personal data by WeChat have unsettled some cybersecurity experts, who worry that such information may apply to areas far beyond health and feed into the state’s surveillance machine.

Information remains limited about how people’s data is stored, but public reports and leaked documents suggest that WeChat is working closely with Chinese police and sharing the data without users’ knowledge.

Internal and public records both show that police authorities have access to the health code’s data.