Imagine if your social media account doubled as an identity card. That scenario is becoming a reality in China, thanks to the incredibly popular WeChat app. The virtual ID pilot program began on Monday in the southern coastal province of Guangdong and is set to expand further across China starting next month.
State news agency Xinhua reports that registered WeChat users in the city’s Nansha district can now use their virtual identification in the same way as their state ID cards, which includes applying for government services, checking into hotels, and opening bank accounts.
The system uses facial recognition tech to verify people before their virtual IDs are authorized.
The Financial Times reports that people can obtain a limited version of the ID by scanning their faces using the WeChat app; this allows low-security functions such as registering at internet cafes. Acquiring a full version entails visiting an offline terminal in the city and scanning a physical ID card.
According to Officer Yan from the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau in Nansha, AI has an error rate of just 1 percent when it comes to identifying people, whereas humans make mistakes 15 percent of the time.
Tencent-owned WeChat has 980 million registered users in China—a country with a population of almost 1.4 billion. Those numbers mean plenty of people will have access to the digital IDs, and the authorities claim that identity theft will fall as users won’t need to carry around their physical ID cards and risk losing them. But linking people's IDs with WeChat, which has a real-name and phone number requirement, has raised concerns in a nation where government surveillance is extensive.