Hello and welcome back to theinformationsuperhighway's China Roundup, a summary of recent events that are shaping the Chinese technology landscape and what they mean for people in the rest of the world. The outbreak of the corona virus has devastating effects on the life and economy of people in China. However, there is a silver lining from which the epidemic may have benefited some technology players, as the population remains indoors.
SARS virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which infected thousands and killed hundreds in China in 2002, is widely regarded as a catalyst for the country's young e-commerce industry. People who stayed inside so as not to become infected with the deadly virus flocked to shop online. Alibaba's Taobao, an eBay-like digital marketplace that was launched in particular at the height of the SARS outbreak.
"Although it made thousands sick and killed nearly eight hundred people, the outbreak had strangely positive effects on the Chinese Internet sector, including Alibaba," wrote Chinese Internet expert Duncan Clark in his biography of Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
Almost two decades later, when the coronavirus outbreak places dozens of Chinese cities in different types of closures, the technology giants are reacting again to meet consumer needs in the crisis. Others offer digital tools to help citizens and the government fight the disease.
According to the analysis company QuestMobile, the average Chinese mobile internet time rose from 6.1 hours a day in January to 6.8 hours a day during the Chinese New Year to an amazing daily usage of 7.3 hours after the holiday Businesses delay return to office or resume operations on site.
Here's what some of them offer.
Remote Work Apps: boom and crash
China's enterprise software industry has developed slowly compared to the west, although it is slowly gaining momentum as the country's consumer-oriented industry is overcrowded, prompting investors and technology giants to focus on more business-oriented services. Remote work apps are now experiencing a boom as millions can only work from home.
The online education sector is experiencing a similar upswing, according to research firm Sensor Tower, as schools across the country are closed.
The main actors trying to take advantage of the nationwide work-from-home practice are DingTalk from Alibaba, WeChat from Tencent Work and ByteDances Lark. The app rankings created by Sensor Tower show that from January 22 to February 20, all three apps saw significant growth in downloads compared to the previous year, although their user base is very different:
Ding Talk: 1.446%
WeChat work: 572%
DingTalk, launched in 2014 by an Alibaba team after the failed attempt to compete against WeChat, was rolled out to the most downloaded free iOS app in China in early February. The app claimed in August that more than 10 million companies and over 200 million individual users had registered on their platform.
WeChat's company version WeChat Work, born in 2016, was close behind DingTalk and came second in the free iOS apps in the same period. In December, WeChat Work announced that more than 2.5 million companies and approximately 60 million active users had signed up.
Lark, which only came on the market in 2019, pales in comparison to its two predecessors and hovers around the 300th mark in early February. Even so, Lark seems to have been making a big splash in user acquisition lately by placing ads on his sibling Douyin, the China version of TikTok. Douyin has become a marketing darling as advertisers pounce on vertical, short videos and Lark can certainly benefit from the popularity of the hot app. Despite its colossal monthly user base of one billion, WeChat has been reluctant to monetize ads.
The question is whether the sudden boom will develop into a sustainable growth trend for these apps. System crashes on DingTalk and WeChat Work due to the influx of users at the beginning of the remote work regime could indicate that neither of them has projected such traffic on their growth curve. After all, most companies are expected to resume personal communication once the security conditions are in place.
In fact, the work-from-home model was developed by employees who deal with intrusive corporate rules such as "Leave your webcam on while you work from home." In an unexpected turn, DingTalk suffered from a return Then tools for hosting online courses for students were added. Young users, annoyed that the app had spoiled their extended vacation, and flocked to give DingTalk a star rating.
Face mask algorithms
In order to curb the spread of the virus, local governments in China have instructed people to wear masks in public, which is a potential challenge for the country's ubiquitous identity checks that rely on facial recognition. However, the technologies required to deal with the situation already exist, such as scanning iris.
Travelers I spoke to reported that they can now pass through the station's security without taking off their masks – which could raise an alarm for privacy-conscious people. However, it is unclear whether the change is due to more advanced forms of biometric technology or whether the agency has temporarily relaxed security for low-risk individuals. People still have to scan their ID cards before their biometrics can be verified, and travelers whose identities have been marked could trigger stricter screening, people who are familiar with China's AI industry told me. They added that the latter case is more likely as it will take some time to implement a nationwide infrastructure upgrade.
Digital ID cards
Local governments have also introduced tools that allow people to get digital records of their travel history. This has become a kind of permission to go about their daily life, be it returning to work, their home, or even the city where they live.
One example is the web-based Close Contact Detector app, which was developed by a state-owned company. Users can get a record of their itinerary by entering their names, ID numbers, and phone numbers. So far, the app has caused more contempt than praise for the containment of the virus and has brought people to the question: If the government already has people's travel history under control, why didn't it respond earlier to restrict the free movement of travelers? Why was the service launched only a few weeks after the first major outbreak?
All of this could point to the challenge of collecting and consolidating citizen data across departments and regions, although China continues to endeavor to promote the use of social loans nationwide through the use of real name registration and big data. The health crisis appears to have accelerated this process of data unification. The pressing question is how the government will use this data after the outbreak.
For example, migrants who have been to Hubei have slipped through the cracks while tens of thousands of Hubeirens have been stranded outside the province (what's all the use of SIM card location tracking + face scans?) And SH is not late for those affected Neighborhoods (data) supposedly easy to reach)
– Rita Liao (@ritacyliao), February 12, 2020
Many of these digital permits are provided by WeChat due to the omnipresence and wide-ranging functions of the messenger in Chinese society. In Shenzhen, where WeChat's headquarters, Tencent, is headquartered, cars can only enter the city after WeChat drivers have scanned a QR code hung by a drone – for the obvious reason to get in touch with checkpoint officials to avoid – and digitally record your itinerary.
As the rapidly spreading virus stirs up rumors, individual citizens play an active role in combating misinformation. Dxy.cn (丁香 园), an online medical community, responded quickly with a coronavirus fact-checking feature and a national map that tracks the outbreak's development in real time.
Yikuang, the brainchild of several independent developers and the app review site Sspai.com, is one of the first WeChat-based services to map neighborhoods with confirmed cases using official data from local governments.
Young citizens have also joined. A Shanghai-based high school senior and his colleagues have launched a blog that contains Chinese summaries of corona virus coverage from news organizations around the world.
Food and entertainment
The nationwide ban is almost a blessing for online entertainment. The short video sector recorded 569 million active users every day after the holidays, far more than 492 million per day, QuestMobile shows. Video streaming sites gather musicians to perform virtually, and movies premiere online as the virus forces live venues and cinemas to close.
Many Chinese cities have gone so far as to ban eating in restaurants during the epidemic, which is burdening food and grocery delivery services. To ensure security, delivery companies have developed ways to avoid human interaction, such as Meituan Dianping's “contactless” solution, which is actually a self-service cabinet, where grocery orders are waiting to be picked up by customers , be kept temporarily.