Chinese city Hangzhou proposes permanent health tracking app with score

A Chinese woman shows her local Beijing QR health code to a security officer as he checks her temperature before entering a shopping area during the May holidays on May 3, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images

A Chinese city has unveiled proposals to continuously monitor a person’s health through an app that gives them a score based on factors such as the amount of alcohol they have drunk and the amount of sleep they have got.

The tracking system would work via a digital barcode on a person’s phones. These so-called QR codes became popular during the height of the coronavirus epidemic in China. They are still used – to a lesser extent than before – to determine whether a person can enter a building or take public transport.

Some barcode applications work on a traffic light system, where red would mean someone is a health risk and green means they can enter a building, for example. Some of these barcodes were based on a person’s travel history. If a person travels to a high risk area of ​​China, this code may change color. Others were based on people who reported their health, whether they had symptoms and where they were traveling.

While these were seen as a way to fight the coronavirus epidemic, Hangzhou, a city southwest of Shanghai and home to tech giant Alibaba, offers a permanent version of the barcode system.

Governments collected more data during the global pandemic to help fight the virus. But this has raised concerns about continued increased surveillance even after the coronavirus has been brought under control.

In Hangzhou, the government’s proposals are to assign a health score to a person. This will be based on a variety of factors, including electronic medical records, physical examination results and lifestyle choices. In one screenshot of the barcode-based system, a person’s health score can be seen to drop because they have been drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Meanwhile, a good amount of sleep plus exercise increases a person’s score.

It is unclear how the government would collect this information or whether this application would materialize.

The health code that residents of Hangzhou currently use for coronavirus is managed through Alipay, the mobile payment platform owned by Alibaba’s subsidiary Ant Financial.

When asked about the new application, the company told CNBC that it “had not been contacted by any party regarding this project”. A spokesperson reiterated that protecting user privacy is “a strict requirement for all third-party service providers on our platform”.

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