How Alibaba built China’s ‘health code’ system · TechNode

How Alibaba built China’s ‘health code’ system · TechNode


One of the biggest innovations in China’ fight against coronavirus is the “health code.” In early February, Alibaba helped the Hangzhou municipality stand up a trial app. The idea was to use big data to help monitor control the virus’ spread individual by individual so that communities could more quickly return to normal. The company and provincial governments across China were able to stand up the app nationwide within a few weeks.  

The app allowed millions of people to leave lockdown after only about two weeks, in exchange for privacy. Those with green codes are able to travel freely. Yellow codes should self-quarantine for a week, while red codes must spend two weeks at home. Enforcement varies dramatically by region and even neighborhood.

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The app uses opaque algorithms and data sources to make judgments about the infection risk of its users. The account below—translated and published with permission—provides the most detail we’ve seen about how the app was made, and how it works. 

The story also shows the strength of China’s blurred lines between state and corporation, with Alibaba employees racing to build state systems within days—and reveals, at its conclusion, a remarkable optimism about our surveilled future.

The Health Code’s ‘Long March’

Written by Yun Xi, edited by ‘Ferocious Bro’ 



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