China Plans To Turn Country's Most Popular App, WeChat, Into An Official ID System

from the won't-that-be-convenient? dept

In one respect at least, China’s embrace of digital technology is far deeper and arguably more advanced than that of the West. Mobile phones are not only ubiquitous, but they are routinely used for just about every kind of daily transaction, especially for those involving digital payments. At the heart of that ecosystem sits Tencent’s WeChat program, which has around a billion users in China. It has evolved from a simple chat application to a complete platform running hugely popular apps that are now an essential part of everyday life for most Chinese citizens. The centrality of WeChat makes the following move, reported here by the South China Morning Post, entirely logical:

The government of Guangzhou, capital of the southern coastal province of Guangdong, started on Monday a pilot programme that creates a virtual ID card, which serves the same purpose as the traditional state-issued ID cards, through the WeChat accounts of registered users in the city’s Nansha district, according to a report by state news agency Xinhua.

It said that trial will soon cover the entire province and further expand across the country from January next year.

The Wall Street Journal has some details of how people register:

Under the pilot program, funded by the National Development and Reform Commission, people create a basic identity card by scanning an image of their face into a WeChat mini program, reading aloud four numbers that pop up on the screen and entering their identification number as well as other information.

It obviously makes a lot of sense to use the WeChat platform to provide a virtual identity card. It’s convenient for users who already turn to WeChat apps to handle most aspects of their lives. It means they don’t need to carry around a physical ID card, but can let the software handle the necessary authentication when needed. That’s also good news for businesses that want to confirm a person’s identity.

But it’s also an extremely powerful way for the Chinese government to implement its real-name policy for online activities, something that it has so far failed to push through. It will mean that the daily posts and transactions carried out using a mobile will not only be available to the Chinese authorities, but will be unambiguously linked to an individual once such digital IDs become obligatory for WeChat users, as they surely will. That, in its turn, will be very handy for implementing the proposed “citizen score” framework. Once this has been rolled out nationwide, it will form one of the most effective means of control available to the Chinese government, especially if combined with a similarly comprehensive plan to collect everyone’s DNA.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “China Plans To Turn Country's Most Popular App, WeChat, Into An Official ID System”

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14 Comments
Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The US needs to deploy something like this. Even if it was strictly just for ID.

Think about that for a moment.

Long before the Equifax breach, false identities were being used to steal people’s tax returns. The thieves needed little more than victim’s Social Security numbers and publicly available information.

It’s why here in Canada you’re not supposed to give out your Social Insurance Number (SIN). And yet you MUST give it out if you want to rent or co-sign an apartment, open a bank account, apply for a job, etc. etc.

Give everyone an official ID number, and companies will demand and collect them the same way. Equifax included. And so they too will be in a scores of data breaches a year and exploited by identity thieves.

The Chinese system has you scan in your face, but of course that too will be demanded by Equifax, employers and rental agencies, and included in the next generation of data breaches.

It’s only digging a deeper hole.

An Onymous Coward (profile) says:

In one respect at least, China’s embrace of digital technology is far deeper and arguably more advanced than that of the West.

Once this has been rolled out nationwide, it will form one of the most effective means of control available to the Chinese government, especially if combined with a similarly comprehensive plan to collect everyone’s DNA.

I’m having a hard time reconciling these two statements. Oppressive control == more advanced?

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