China To Track Geolocation Of Cellphone Owners

7 Mar, 2011

The Chinese government can and will find you, if you use your cellphone in China. It may chose not to. In an article posted on a government website, China announced that it would track the movements of its 17 million users in Beijing signed up with China Mobile, in a bid to ease traffic congestion, reports Yahoo News.

Traffic jams in China are notorious, and highway jams can last some nine days. The new system would use GPS information from cellphones to monitor the flow of traffic in different parts of Beijing, presumably to see how residents are using the subway and bus systems. The government would have constantly updated data on the locations and movements of the cellphones, and thus on people who would be using them. The Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission (BMSTC), a constituent part of the Beijing Municipal Government mainly responsible for formulating local science and technology development programs, is reportedly responsible for the project.

As can be expected from such a move, privacy watchdogs and human rights activists believe this is yet another spying tactic by the country. The Chinese government has allegedly hacked into email accounts before and launched cyber attacks against websites as part of its political/governmental agenda. A year ago, Google withdrew from China over censorship issues. There is also some concern that Beijing may set an unfortunate precedent for other countries to follow suit.

Those on the other side of the debate argue back that the government is just broadly gathering geolocational information, and the data is not granular enough to invite paranoia or prosecution. Commuters in Beijing would be able to buy access into some of this data, thereby planning their routes better.

China has more than 850 million mobile phone users, and the penetration of mobile phones is more around 62.8% in the country. India has a mobile phone penetration of 64.74% (, incase you were wondering.