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The COVID-19 pandemic has vastly accelerated the digitalization of public health practices worldwide. In doing so, it has fostered a new class of pandemic-related technological solutions, a subset of which utilize artificial intelligence for contact tracing purposes. The People’s Republic of China has not been immune from this rush to implement these novel tools. But there is a darker element to the country’s Alipay Health Code mobile application that extends beyond pandemic preparedness. With ambitions to further incorporate the app into their already vast surveillance apparatus, China is on the precipice of setting a dangerous precedent for pervasive, state-sponsored automated social control. In such a world, we may see health tools co-opted into systems that score individuals on their political fealty. As such, they have the potential to severely undercut democratic ideals by restricting the freedom to dissent necessary to uphold such values. They would do all this under the guise of promoting collective wellbeing.

Original publication




Journal article


Surveillance and Society

Publication Date





269 - 275