Tech firms help Chinese authorities launch real-name registration on public transport for coronavirus tracking

  • China
  • Wednesday, 12 Feb 2020

New systems by tech firms Meituan and Dida require commuters to provide personal information before taking public transport in some Chinese cities. The initiative is meant to help authorities track those who might have been in contact with individuals infected with the novel coronavirus. — SCMP

Ride-hailing platforms in China are helping local authorities track commuters who might have been in close contact with those diagnosed with the novel coronavirus with real-name registration systems for public transport in some cities.

The systems, backed up by tech companies including Meituan Dianping and Dida Chuxing, require commuters to provide their personal information by scanning QR codes with their mobile phones before taking buses, trains and taxis. Those who refuse to register will not be allowed on public transport.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has resulted in more than 1,000 deaths in the country – overtaking the number of fatalities caused by the Sars epidemic in 2003 – and over 42,000 confirmed cases as of Monday, according to China’s National Health Commission.

The systems could help authorities track passengers who could have been in contact with patients infected with the coronavirus through their trip history, although they may also raise concerns about privacy and data security.

Beijing-based Meituan launched its system for bus, train and taxi commuters last Thursday in Shenyang, capital of northeastern Liaoning province.

When boarding vehicles, passengers can scan a QR code using WeChat and authorise access to their contact information, according to Meituan’s post on its official account on WeChat on Sunday. It added that drivers and attendants will assist those who do not have smartphones or do not know how to use the system, registering their details manually if necessary.

The start-up – known for providing on-demand services such as rides and deliveries – is currently working with transport authorities to roll out the real-name registration system in more than 10 Chinese cities across the country, it said.

Dida, the ride-hailing upstart that competes against market leader Didi Chuxing, also announced on Monday that it had developed a similar system that enabled local authorities to track passengers who preregistered their names, personal identification numbers and contact information. The QR-based system was launched first in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, and the platform is working with authorities in multiple cities on the roll out, it said.

“As the back-to-work wave approaches, improving the soundness of public transit and guarding public health during commutes has become a major priority,” Beijing-based Dida said.

At least 24 of China’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, including Beijing and Shanghai, told businesses not to reopen before Monday at the earliest in an effort to contain the outbreak. Many employees have been working from home since the end of the Lunar New Year holiday on February 2.

Privacy and data security concerns have been mounting in China, where the government has been criticised for its plans to build an “omnipresent, fully networked, always working and fully controllable” video surveillance network by the end of the year.

Dida said in its statement that it will only share passenger information with health authorities to ensure privacy and data security. Meituan also said users do not need to worry about privacy issues as personal information will be “encrypted and stored on a dedicated server”, and its use of pre-filled data reduces the risk of exposure from manually filling in details each time. – South China Morning Post

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