The Hottest App in China Is Made by the Police, And Users Are Not Pleased

Some reviewers say they are forced to install the police app before getting COVID-19 vaccines.
April 13, 2021, 9:09am
China police app
Chinese residents say they are forced to install an anti-fraud app made by the police. Photo: Hector RETAMAL / AFP

Thousands of Chinese users have flocked to Apple’s app store to protest against an anti-fraud app developed by the police, accusing the government of forcing users to download the app and collecting personal data. 

Local authorities have been promoting the app, called “China anti-fraud center,” since it was launched last month by the Chinese police’s criminal investigation unit. Authorities said it was designed to protect people against internet scams.

Advertisement

While the app is now the most downloaded free app on the iOS app store in mainland China, many users have complained in the reviews that they were actually forced to install it. 

A reviewer called the app a “product of power abuse” last week, adding that he was only allowed into his residential compound in the southern city of Shenzhen after downloading the app. 

“I couldn’t get vaccinated without downloading the app,” another person said on April 2. “This kind of violent enforcement really left one speechless.” 

The app has received more than 7,000 mostly negative reviews by Tuesday after it was launched in March. Several users say they have been coerced into installing the app by their employers, patrolling police officers, or even their children’s schools. 

The Chinese leadership is increasingly using big data and digital platforms in governing the population. In 2019, an app that teaches users about President Xi Jinping’s thoughts topped China’s app charts after Communist Party members were told to download it. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people in China are required to obtain an online “health code,” which is connected to government tracking systems, before they are allowed in public venues. 

Many users willingly provide personal data to these state-run platforms in exchange for public services, but in some cases, government coercion and privacy worries have led to discontent. 

Advertisement

It’s unclear how many downloads of the anti-fraud app were made against users’ will. The Chinese police are conducting a nationwide crackdown on telecom and internet fraud, a campaign President Xi personally endorsed last week. 

Over the past month, public security bureaus across the country have issued online callouts encouraging citizens to install the app, which they say is able to detect suspicious calls, verify recipients’ identities when users are transferring money online, and scan the entire phone for fraudulent apps. 

Users are required to enter their names and national ID numbers as well as have their faces scanned when registering on the app. Officials have also reminded people to allow the app to access all their photos, texts, and contacts. 

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.