Hangzhou 'Personal health code' scoring expansion triggers backlash

Occurred: May 2020

China's Hangzhou Municipal Health Commission announcement that it was planning to make permanent a version of the country's 'health code' app used during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a strong backlash.

The system, which was to assign citizens a personal score, colour, and ranking based on data collected about their medical history, health checkups, and lifestyle habits, including smoking, drinking and sleeping, would compare users’ health indicators with the health code colors to build a personal health index ranking.

The plan triggered anger on the country's social media, with citizens raising conerns about its need, normalising and overly intrusive nature, as well as its scope for surveillance and other forms of abuse and misuse. According to Sixth Tone, a poll on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo resulted in 86% of 6,600 users voting against the proposal.

Hangzhou authorities responded by saying they would press ahead with the system. The city was the first in China to implement a COVID-19 QR code app and, in 2019, it had launched a social credit system - one of the first cities in China to do so.

Operator: Hangzhou Municipal Health Commission
Developer: Alibaba/AliPay/DingTalk; Tencent/WeChat
Country: China
Sector: Govt - health
Purpose: Calculate personal health score
Issue: Appropriateness/need; Privacy; Scope creep/normalisation; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance