China is reportedly making people download an Alibaba-backed app that decides whether they'll be quarantined for coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A woman uses her mobile phone behind barbed wire at an entrance of a residential compound in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

  • The Chinese government is reportedly telling citizens to use a mobile app that tells them if they will be quarantined for the novel coronavirus.
  • The app uses a color code, according to The New York Times - green means people can travel freely, while a yellow or red indicates they must report to authorities.
  • E-commerce giant Alibaba and its sister company Ant Financial run the app, which also reportedly sends people's information and location to police.
  • The app represents an unprecedented use of consumer smartphone technology by a nation-state to respond to a public health crisis - and privacy advocates worry it's giving the Chinese government an excuse to harvest more citizen data.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese citizens are reportedly being required to use a smartphone app that tells them whether they should carry on as usual - or report to a medical facility to be quarantined.

The service, called Health Code, is being run by Ant Financial, sister company to the $500 billion-dollar e-commerce giant Alibaba, according to The New York Times. People can sign up through the Alipay wallet app. Tencent, the Chinese tech giant that owns WeChat, has also reportedly partnered with the government to host a similar health code system on its app.
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People using the health code are assigned a QR code along with a color ranking - green means the user is free to travel, while yellow or red means they must be quarantined. The code is based in part on people's answers to an in-app questionnaire, but little else is known about how people are classified, leading to confusion and fear among those who receive a red code, according to Reuters.

The app also is raising concerns among privacy advocates. The app reportedly sends users' location and personal information to police as soon as they begin using it, and an official law enforcement social media account said police were a partner in developing the app. Chinese authorities said the data collected will only be used for the coronavirus outbreak, after which it will be destroyed.

More than a billion people use Tencent's apps in China, while over 900 million Chinese citizens use Alipay. Over 700 million people have started using Tencent's health code service, according to the company.
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In a statement to Business Insider, Ant Financial general counsel Leiming Chen said that governments and private companies working together is a "global common practice."

"Ant Financial requires that all third-party developers, including those who offer health code services using our technology platform, strictly adhere to our data security and privacy requirements, which include obtaining user consent before providing services," Chen said. A representative for Tencent did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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