back to article Hong Kong teases tech to track residents as they move past QR codes

Hong Kong’s secretary for innovation and technology Alfred Sit has said the Territory is working on a technology that somehow passively scans QR codes. Hong Kong has introduced an app called TEXT “LeaveHomeSafe” that can be used to scan QR codes placed on thousands of venues around the former British colony. Residents are …

  1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Big Brother

    As clear as mud

    How the “LeaveHomeSafe” app actually achieves its aim is unclear. You can scan the QR codes at venues, and enter taxi license numbers, and confirm when you leave a venue. The Government has, multiple times, assured people that their visits are ONLY stored on their phone and automatically deleted after 3(?) weeks, so there are no privacy concerns. But, if you are tested as COVID +, you have the option (otherwise, what's the point?) for uploading your records to the Centre for Health Protection. Presumably, the consolidated records are then transmitted to all app users. This might cause two issues:

    i) If there are lots of cases, does this scale well? Three weeks of visit date for every case must be transmitted to every app user for matching.

    ii) If there are very few cases (yesterday there were 14 new cases in HK), privacy is compromised. In the extreme case, the movements of one person are transmitted to every app user. Anyone who can work out who the case was ("Bob went into quarantine yesterday") can check where they have been (depending on the in-app security... probably reasonably breakable).

    In practical terms, the actual scanning of the QR is fast enough, it's the other stuff that is inconvenient. I've experienced all of these:

    a) I didn't see the code on entering

    b) I did see the code, get the phone out, start the app...

    c) Someone (a security guard) is standing in front of the code

    d) The lift arrived, catch the lift or scan the code?

    e) I'm leaving... Oh, look, there's the code, scan it now?

    f) I left, and forgot to tell the app (it defaults to 4 hours before expiry)

    The resulting records are likely to be incomplete and inaccurate.

    The size of the venues is highly varied... restaurants are now required to display the code, and eat-in customers must either scan it or record their details manually, so every corner cafe has a code. So do 20+ floor Government buildings with thousands of people. There's a large public hospital with multiple buildings with QR codes at each entrance, and some of the buildings are linked by bridges, without QR codes. Is it counted as one venue or many? Either you end up testing far more people than have possibly been within shouting distance of a case, or you miss close contacts, or, most likely, both.

    Interestingly, during public briefings on the latest figures, Government officials have not reported the number of cases that were detected because of this “LeaveHomeSafe” app. I won't speculate why.

    1. Richard Crossley

      Re: As clear as mud

      A good precis of the system.

      You can change the default from 4 hours, I have it set at 2, which is long enough for lunch. I don't go out much these days now either.

      Icon, missing the contents and ambiance.

  2. iron Silver badge

    > technology that somehow passively scans QR codes

    I'd bet its called either RFID or NFC. It isn't possible to scan a barcode without pointing some form of reader at it but it is simple to add an RF tag with the barcode.

    1. Shadow Systems

      What about feature phones?

      If the tech requires an app then that excludes all the millions of feature phone users.

      If it requires bluetooth then you need to tell folks to turn that function on, assuming their phone includes it. If the person is unable or unwilling to enable bluetooth, that kind of drops an extra large hurdle in your path.

      If it requires wifi then you're back in the same boat as with bluetooth. If the phone doesn't have it or the person is unwilling to turn it on, there's a giant hurdle in your way to track the person.

      China is a large market for feature phones to the tune of millions of users, and anywhere that uses 2G/3G as their primary cellular network infrastructure is another high concentration for folks that can't afford a smartphone. So what do you do if the phone the person has in hand is unable to do any of the techno-gymnastics you require in order to do the job? Do you buy them a smartphone & set it up for them so it/they can be tracked?

      "Hey you! Turn on your smartphone & scan this code!" Sorry, it's a feature phone & doesn't run the scanner app. "What kind of neanderthal ARE you? No smartphone? HEATHEN!"


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    eyeball implant?

  4. Winkypop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Every citizen will be assigned a Chinese handler

    A personal assistant that shadows you everywhere.

    What’s not to like?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If only Apple or Google made something similar for iPhones and Android phones using bluetooth technology that is free for government's to use...

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