(Minghui.org) Xiao Yang is a sales manager in a large retail company and has to go to several supermarkets daily to check inventory levels. After his company required everyone to download the DingTalk software, Xiao Yang complained, “I am now tracked 24 hours a day by the app.”
Developed by the Alibaba group that also owns the popular financial app Alipay and Amazon-like shopping website Taobao, DingTalk is a new mobile communications and meeting app. In China, it’s used extensively by students, especially during the coronavirus lockdowns.
In addition to providing meeting functionality, DingTalk uses GPS to track people’s location and movement. Many Chinese companies are starting to use the app to track employee hours.
Xiao Yang said that after he installed the app on his cellphone, he had to smile at the phone every day to clock in. The app also gave his manager easy access to information he didn’t have before, including when Xiao Yang left home, when he arrived at the supermarkets, how long he spent at each location, and even what he said.
In order to make a living, Xiao Yang endured the annoying tracking and face-scanning functions of DingTalk. But what the app is capable of doing doesn’t stop there.
Xiao Yang discovered that DingTalk automatically retrieved his contact information on his phone, such as those of his classmates, friends, and associates, and then automatically recommended itself to them without asking for his permission. If his friends downloaded DingTalk, thinking it was recommended by Xiao Yang, the app would then be recommended to his friends’ friends. This is how DingTalk made itself “go viral.”
What made Xiao Yang furious was the “tracking” function, the proudest feature of DingTalk. For example, if his manager contacted him and he did not reply, DingTalk would automatically convert the manager’s command into a text message and send it to him. If he still didn’t reply, the app would then call him. This function remains active at all times, including outside of working hours.
In the past, when Xiao Yang and his colleagues used WeChat as a communications tool at work, they could set up working hours, outside of which they would not receive any assignments. Xiao Yang felt he could never have “off time” with DingTalk because of its 24/7 surveillance.
DingTalk’s user base has grown rapidly to 300 million during the pandemic. Its number of daily downloads once exceeded that of WeChat, the most popular social media app in China.
For most Chinese people, WeChat has now become their electronic wallet, electronic reader, video player, navigation device, parenting tool, and sports pedometer. DingTalk aims to become the all-in-one work and collaboration app that covers clocking in and out, finance, meetings, contract approvals, etc.
Five or six years ago, before the WeChat age, most people still called each other as the main form of communication. As telephone carriers always require a warrant or subpoena to disclose phone records concerning a particular case to law enforcement, it was not that easy for police to gather information about someone.
After software such as WeChat and DingTalk took over people’s lives, together with the massive surveillance network, everyone has become completely transparent in China. It is now easy for the police to monitor any individual and gain information about them through such apps.
While most surveillance cameras remain on the streets, cellphone apps like WeChat and DingTalk have allowed surveillance cameras to enter thousands of households and get up close and personal.
Over a billion people use WeChat, and many know their information is under surveillance. But as people have grown increasingly dependent on it in their work and personal lives, it’s also very difficult for one to avoid it.
No technology company can maintain its independence under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, nor can it truly protect its users' information and privacy.