Hong Kong Introduces Invasive Location-Tracking Bracelets, Promises They’re Not That Invasive

Hong Kong Introduces Invasive Location-Tracking Bracelets, Promises They’re Not That Invasive
Photo: Getty

While we all have tech-based privacy intrusions to deal with on a daily basis, Hong Kong residents are seeing that taken up to a new level thanks to the coronavirus’s spread—and it’s only getting worse.

Case in point: Earlier today, Hong Kong’s Chief Information Officer, Victor Lam, announced earlier today that the city-state will be cracking down on new arrivals that try to break their federally mandated two week quarantine upon touching down. Lam explained that Hong Kong residents put under quarantine will now need to wear a handy wristband that tracks their location to ensure they’re staying put, and (hopefully) staying socially distant.

But don’t worry—despite how dystopian this might sound, Lam assured reporters that he’d consulted with Hong Kong’s “Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data,” who “basically agreed” that the system wasn’t invasive. As Lam said:

In fact, the app will not capture directly the location, but only capture the changes in the location, especially the telecommunication and communication signals around the confinee to ensure that he (or she) is staying at home.”

The wristband—which looks kinda like a souped-up hospital wristband that you might get during a prolonged stay—is made to pair with a native app that, much like many of the apps on many of our phones, garners location data from the wristband itself. Wristband-wearers are also told to walk throughout their house so that the tech can map out the coordinates of a living space, and tip-off authorities if the wristband-wearer goes somewhere they aren’t allowed.

Right now, Hong Kong has more than 50,000 people locked in their homes—and that number is expected to rise, according to an earlier federal press release.

“So far, 5,000 reusable wristbands […] are readily available and another 60 000 disposable wristbands have been procured from the market. Among which, 5 000 disposable wristbands were delivered and tested,” the statement reads, adding that “the remaining 55 000 wristbands will be delivered in batches.”

The company that developed this band’s associated app is a Hong-Kong based Compathnion, which brands itself as “an award-winning team with a mission to deliver effective location-based solutions to fulfil evolving business needs in Hong Kong, China, and other parts of the world.” A quick look at its clientele shows that before the company helped Hong Kong authorities map out its citizens, Compathnion did the same for malls, construction companies, and universities.

According to an earlier federal press release, this app/wristband combo won’t be the only thing tracking Hong Kong citizens’ locations. Popular apps like WhatsApp and WeChat will also be beaming that intel back to Hong Kong’s Department of Health, and local arms of law enforcement.

Both of these departments will get the memo if someone under quarantine tries to un-quarantine themselves before the two weeks are up, and will also get flagged if someone tries breaking their wristband or disconnecting their smartphone—federal no-no’s that will result in one of these agencies taking “follow-up action.” The exact definition of what that “action” means has yet to be defined, but considering Hong Kong’s track record of alleged police brutality, it’s not hard to imagine what could happen if the quarantined don’t stay quarantined.