Invisible threats / Japan slow to act amid fears of China’s Olympic app

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The MY2022 health-monitoring app that China’s Olympic organizing committee obliged athletes and others attending the Beijing Winter Olympics to use

Amid China’s growing presence in both the military and economic fields, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is concerned that Japan has too many vulnerabilities in areas including the protection of vital information and supply networks, and the Japanese government is expediting efforts to pass an “economic security promotion law.” This is the first installment in a series that explores Japan’s vulnerabilities in such areas.

On Feb. 7, Kishida summoned officials from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and the Japan Sports Agency to the Prime Minister’s Office and reprimanded them.

“Don’t you think you lack a sense of urgency? Why does Japan do nothing while other countries act?”

What Kishida saw as a problem was the delay in taking action on China’s MY2022 health-monitoring app for those attending the Beijing Winter Olympics. China’s Olympic organizing committee obliged athletes and media personnel to use this app.

Users of the app were required to enter a lot of personal information, such as their health status. Authorities in Japan, the United States and Europe had pointed out security concerns, for example, the lack of proper encryption when transmitting information, making it easy to intercept.

In China, under the National Intelligence Law and other regulations, companies and other organizations are obliged to cooperate with the government’s information-gathering activities. There were fears that the Chinese government would obtain personal information from the app via the Games organizing committee.

Although U.S. and European authorities had been recommending the use of rental smartphones and other devices to their Olympic participants and attendees since January, it was only on Feb. 4, the opening day of the Games, that the Japan Sports Agency issued a warning through the Japanese Olympic Committee.

While some, including Seiko Hashimoto, chairperson of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, took rental smartphones to Beijing, many athletes and other attendees had already taken their personal smartphones. Some of them expressed confusion as to why the alert was issued at such a time.

The agency announced on Feb. 8 that the smartphones of athletes would be examined after they return to Japan. It also said that at the Beijing Winter Paralympics, which will begin on March 4, it will take the unusual step of lending out smartphones to the athletes.

The danger of personal information being obtained by China has already been highlighted by an issue regarding the free messaging app LINE, in which users’ information was found to be accessible by a Chinese company that did outsourced work for the service.

Even citizens’ genomic information — a country’s “ultimate personal data” — could also be revealed to the Chinese government through Chinese companies. Japan and the United States are concerned about the situation.