Shanghai will become the latest city to roll out real-name registration for commuters taking the subway, following a slew of other metropolises implementing identity checks on public transport.

Why it matters: China has turned to apps to track and prevent the spread of Covid-19, a new flu-like virus that has killed nearly 2,750 people.

  • However, such systems allow the government to keep a closer eye on people’s movements, prompting concern that the measures could continue once the epidemic has ended.

Details: Starting on Friday, commuters in Shanghai will be encouraged to scan a QR code in their subway car after boarding. Passengers will then be prompted to confirm their mobile phone numbers, according to Shanghai Metro’s official WeChat account.

  • Unlike other cities that have rolled out the system, Shanghai commuters do not need to enter their name and ID numbers, and registration is not currently mandatory.
  • However, mobile phone numbers are tied to individual IDs in China, allowing authorities to determine riders’ identities using their contact details.
  • Commuters in Shanghai can use Alipay, WeChat, or map app Autonavi to scan the QR codes and register.
  • Passengers will need to rescan if they change subway cars or transfer to a different subway line.
  • Authorities will contact anyone who they suspect came in close contact with an individual thought to be infected.

Context: The southern city of Shenzhen and eastern China’s Ningbo rolled out similar systems last week, which in some cases apply to buses and taxis. The system in these cities is developed by gaming and social media giant Tencent.

  • Meanwhile, Shenyang, capital of northeastern China’s Liaoning province, has enlisted lifestyle services platform Meituan-Dianping to develop real-name registration services for commuters in the city.
  • Other cities, including Nanjing in eastern China, have also rolled out such systems.

This article has been corrected to reflect that registration in Shanghai is currently not mandatory. 

Chris Udemans

Christopher Udemans is a Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covers Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, and cybersecurity. You can contact him at chrisudemans [at] technode [dot] com.

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