Research Project: The Comparison between Chinese Health-code and Canadian Covid Alert App

Over 50 countries have adopted the contact tracing apps in order to control the further spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). However, the Canadian contact tracing app, COVID Alert, seems to be problematic in many different ways: privacy concern, equity issues and difficulty of mass adoption within the country. Thus, in this research project, we (two Ph.D students, one master student and me from University of Toronto) would like to analyze the Chinese contact tracing app, Healthcode, and draw comparison and contrast between two countries. By conducting research on the contact tracing policies in other countries, I will also be making recommendations and strategies to promote the app and solve the equity issues.

disclaimer: this is a group research project. all the results and conclusions below were obtained as a group work unless specified.

Date: June 2020 – December 2020

Chinese Healthcode is a mini program built-in within the Chinese social media platform, Wechat. Users are required to manually enter their temperatures and routes so that the program will generate a personalized Healthcode. This code is required when entering public spaces and residential areas. Only the people who have a green code are allowed to entrance.

Canadian COVID Alert app uses bluetooth to interchange information between two phones with certain proximity. When one gets tested positive, he/she will receive the personalized one-time key to be entered into the app. Others who have come close in contact with this person will get notification about their exposure.

In order to understand more about the apps usage in both countries, we interviewed 53 Chinese participants and 15 Canadian participants who have been actively using the apps.

Our research results from Chinese participants

we have interviewed 53 Chinese participants who resided in China during the pandemic and have used health-code.

  • Privacy Concerns
    • 21/53 Chinese participants their privacy concerns
    • Of these 21 participants
      • 12 were supportive for the contact tracing policies and thought that giving up their privacy was necessary under such situation
      • 7 said they did not care about the privacy, because even without the contact tracing app, many social media still own the private information.
      • 5 said that they trusted the government
      • 3 said they were willing to compromise for everyone’s safety
  • Platforms and Promotion
    • All participants used the health-code via Wechat (A common Chinese social media app for people to contact each other)
    • Most participants said they saw the promotion and the advertisements through Wechat as well
  • User Experiences
    • 5 out of 53 participants depicted their user experiences with the health-code as “Ma Fan” (troublesome & inconvenient)
    • 1 participant mentioned that she was even late for work because there were so many steps (to check the health-code_ before going to the office

Our research results from Canadian participants

we have interviewed 15 Canadian participants who have used the COVID alert app.

  • Privacy Concern
    • All participants mentioned their privacy concerns and admitted the importance of the privacy of this app
    • However, some participants said that they would use it anyway, since the pandemic time is special
  • Platforms and Promotion
    • Some participants saw the advertisements on YouTube, while others heard the app from their friends
    • Participants all have slightly different ways to receive information of this new app
  • User Experiences
    • One participant was given the wrong signal (saying that he was in close contact with the positive case for two months, though he haven’t even gone out) and he felt frustrated
    • One participant mentioned that she did not believe in the correctness/accuracy of the app because the app used the bluetooth which is unreliable
    • Most participants thought this app was not very helpful but would still keep it on in order to protect themselves

Our research process

  1. Interviewed with 53 Chinese participants and 15 Canadian participants
  2. Transcribed the interviews and translated some important phrases if needed
  3. Grouped the interviews by themes
  4. Coded the interviews by different themes observed through the online coding platform, Dovetail
  5. Analyze the codes/themes and construct research results

Our Conclusions