Anti-fraud app from Chinese police sees soaring downloads amid complaints of forced installs

The app was launched in March by the Ministry of Public Security and the national computer emergency response team. Users also express concerns about the amount of personal data collected by the app, including real names and national ID numbers. — SCMP

A new anti-fraud mobile app made by the Chinese government has shot to the top of the country’s iOS App Store charts less than a month after launch, as users take to the review section and online forums to complain about being forced to install the app.

Named “National Anti-fraud Centre” and available on both Android and Apple devices, the app was developed by the Ministry of Public Security and the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team (CNCERT).

Authorities say the app is designed to warn users of any calls, text messages or installed apps that are suspected of being associated with fraudulent activities.

Attendees are required to scan a QR code to download the anti-fraud app before they are allowed to enter the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center during the China Information Technology Expo. Photo: Yujie Xue

Since its launch in mid-March, the app has quickly become the most downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store in China, having accumulated more than seven million downloads by April 12, according to research analytics firm ASO 100.

However the app has received a rating of only 1.6 out of 5, with many reviewers complaining about being forced to install the app and expressing concerns about data privacy.

“Went to get a vaccine shot yesterday, but the staff there forced me to scan the QR code to download the app before they would let me go,” said one review on the iOS store that rated the app one star.

“I was stopped at the entrance to my apartment building by security and forced to download this app. He wouldn’t let me in if I did not,” wrote another user. “I’m starting to wonder whether it’s for fraud prevention or a fraud itself.”

In cities like Shenzhen, the southern tech hub bordering Hong Kong, banners promoting the anti-fraud app can be seen in subway stations and at residential compounds, with QR codes for people to scan and download the app.

At the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center on Monday, people were asked to download the app and present it to security officers, in addition to showing their health codes, before they were allowed to enter.

Sun Lei, an attendee at the China Information Technology Expo held at the exhibition centre over the weekend, said that although he found the requirement inconvenient, he is not against it.

“Telecoms fraud does account for a huge percentage of criminal cases nowadays,” Sun said. “I think the Shenzhen police are doing the right thing.”

“National Anti-fraud Centre” is an app developed by China’s Public Security Bureau and the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team (CNCERT) to tackle fraudulent calls, text messages and installed apps. Photo: Apple App Store

When asked on the phone about the allegations of forced downloads, an employee of the Public Security Bureau in Shenzhen’s Longhua district said that citizens are “highly encouraged” to download the app and authorities hope that everyone will understand and cooperate.

Users have also expressed worries about the amount of personal information collected by the app.

Even though the app description on the iOS App Store states that the developers do not collect any user data, registration on the app requires submitting a user’s real name, national ID number, phone number, address and facial data.

Other users complained about technical issues when using the app, such as problems with logging in or the app not responding.

“What’s the point of launching such a terrible app and forcing everyone to download it except for obtaining our personal information?” wrote another review on the iOS store.

“Please don’t force people to use an app that’s neither practical nor convenient in the name of public security.”

Since last year, China has launched several high-profile telecoms and online anti-fraud campaigns, as the number of technology-related crimes surged amid the coronavirus pandemic, when people became increasingly reliant on the internet for remote work and schooling.

The country’s communication authorities dealt with more than 1.3 billion fraudulent text messages and over 230 million fraudulent calls last year, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a nearly 11% spike compared with 2019. – South China Morning Post

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