China is putting ID cards on smartphones

Smartphone users in China.

Image: Statista

China’s millions of smartphone users are set to be even more wedded to their mobile devices thanks to rival bids by the country’s internet giants Alibaba and Tencent. The two companies are competing to host essential state-run ID services on their platforms.

Almost 60% of China’s population of nearly 1.4 billion citizens owns a smart mobile, according to data from eMarketer, while ID cards are issued to every citizen at the age of 16 by the Public Security Bureau.

The cards play an indispensable role in the everyday lives of the country’s citizens. They list the holder’s age, name, gender, address, ethnicity, birth date and a photo. Without an ID card it is extremely difficult to obtain a driver’s licence, open a bank account, buy high-speed train tickets or travel by plane.

In December, messaging and social media app WeChat, owned by Tencent Holdings, announced a pilot scheme providing a virtual ID card to registered users in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, Guangdong province, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Now, rival internet giant Alibaba has announced an alternative digital ID scheme via its Alipay payment app in the cities of Quzhou, Fuzhou and Hangzhou.

The battle between the country’s two tech giants to become the leading digital ID provider seems to be just another face-off between rivals fighting for the hearts and minds of consumers in one of the world’s leading marketplaces.

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