Chinese authorities are running a limited test that will allow Chinese citizens to use their WeChat social network account as a state-sanctioned electronic ID.
Tests are currently underway in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, the capital city of the Guangdong province. The WeChat-based electronic ID system is set to expand to all city districts and later to the entire province in January 2018.
The programme's rules say that Chinese citizens will be able to scan their face with the WeChat mobile app, which will then create a digital electronic ID card with limited functions.
Users will also be able to scan their ID card at special terminals across the city and upgrade their electronic ID card to full rights, according to Chinese government news agency news.cn.
Users will be able to use this electronic ID card as a replacement for various tasks that usually required them to have their real ID card at hand, such as checking into hotels, buying traveling tickets, going through airports, opening bank accounts, enrolling in government programmes, and more.
WeChat —known in China as Weixin, and owned by Tencent— is an instant messaging application that launched in 2011 and grew into China's largest social network. Tencent claims that over 900 million users log in and use the app every day.
The Chinese government trusts WeChat because users can register a WeChat account only via a phone number, and you can't get a phone card SIM in China without providing a copy of your real-life ID to a telecom provider. Furthermore, telecoms, tech companies, and all other businesses activating in China are required by law to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, which reduces the chance that WeChat could be abused for fraud.
This is Beijing's second test run for creating an electronic ID system tied to already existing online identities. The Chinese government partnered with Alibaba to create a similar electronic ID system in the city of Wuhan, capital of the Hubei province, in June 2016. That electronic ID system was tied to Alipay accounts, an online payments system similar to PayPal.