“There is a difference between Chinese and Western culture,” said Cui Xiaohui, a professor at the big data analysis and AI research center at the University of Wuhan — the city where the virus first emerged late last year.
“Most Chinese people are ready to sacrifice a little bit of their private life if it is really for their health,” Cui said.
Li Song, a 37-year-old actor, agrees.
“We are already super-connected and there is no debate on the use of geolocation,” said Li, a Shanghai resident whose app was red when he returned from a trip to France and turned green once his two-week quarantine ended.
It is not so simple in European democracies.
The Swiss government’s original plans to roll out an app were thwarted by parliament, which decided it needed a proper legal basis to press ahead.
If approved, the Swiss app will be optional and no personal data or location information will be used, the government says.
In France, the StopCovid app being developed would allow users who become sick to anonymously alert people they may have come across. It would not use GPS location technology.
Britain is also trialing a new phone app to identify localized outbreaks.
“China doesn’t have specific laws or regulations yet on the protection of personal data,” said Zhou Lina, a professor specializing in data protection at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.
But the country has other legislation, including a cybersecurity law passed in 2017, that partially covers the issue and curbs abuses by companies online.
These laws would not stop authorities from accessing personal data however, said Jeremy Daum, senior research fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, noting that police have “enormous power” to collect information.
“Government access to information is not held to the same standards and the law assumes that internal checks are sufficient to stop government abuses,” Daum said.