Decentralized or centralized? Bluetooth or geolocation? Control quarantines or alert people to infection risk? Store data for one month or six? There are many questions that need answers to build an app-based system to manage the Covid-19 pandemic and lift lockdowns. Much like how the implementation of health code systems wildly varies between Chinese provinces and cities, European countries are coming up with wildly different solutions.
The differences between Europe’s path to technology for epidemic control and how China did it offer a glimpse into the future. In an era where China is increasingly exporting its innovations around the world, observing how other regions are taking to them is an ever-pressing issue for China tech. A rich debate between governments, companies and private citizens is taking place in Europe, one that China didn’t get. It is a debate that is slowing down the process, but it will determine what and how gets implemented—and how China’s techniques will be judged.
On the continent, any hint that Europe is taking up China-style surveillance comes at a political cost. Officials are claiming to be examining the South Korean and Singaporean models. But after years of bashing China’s privacy policies and the whole world looking at China during Covid-19, it is hard to dissociate China’s model of epidemic control from what European leaders are doing. So, the continent’s public health challenge has become intensely political. What began a choice between epidemic control and individual liberty is understood by many as our way versus the China way.
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