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Beijing Athlete Covid App: Security Flaws in a Security State

The app issued by Chinese officials to manage Covid exposure during the Beijing Games has several security flaws, together with the potential for censorship or surveillance. The app does not encrypt sensitive information/transmissions adequately, according to news reports; and it appears to be able to flag certain terms as politically sensitive. The combination of problems is unique to China, but there are some issues endemic to Covid-tracking apps worldwide.  

Many countries have rolled out track-and-trace apps in the wake of Covid, as one tool to manage the resumption of normal activities. Norway's and Japan's apps were flagged with security problems -- a real test of trust for technology used by governments to manage a public health crisis. China's combination of potential surveillance measures with run-of-the-mill security issues shows an egregious example of possible problems.  

Apps that track coronavirus exposures have been rife with security flaws. Many countries rushed out these apps in an effort to keep pace with the spread of the coronavirus, but then scrambled to address poor security practices. Human rights groups have warned that flaws in the design of these apps put people at risk for scams, identity theft or extensive government tracking, and could undermine the public’s trust in health initiatives.