Expats in Thailand fear for their online privacy

Published:  21 May at 6 PM
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Tagged: Thailand
Expats in Thailand now fearing breaches of their online privacy due to the junta government’s new coronavirus contact tracing website.

As Thailand gently eases up on its total lockdown and allows locals and expats to shop again, many foreigners are fearing a loss of online privacy due to a newly announced government tracing website. In an attempt to upgrade the tracing of those who’ve been in unknowing contact with infected people during shopping trips, the controversial app/website/whatever must be used every time a shop or mall is entered. However, this being Thailand, the conflicting expat opinions about the security of information stored on foreign customers’ smartphones have taken on a life of their own!

First announced earlier this month as a way to make tracing of those who’ve been in close contact with unknowing carriers of the coronavirus far easier, the so-called app now seems to actually be a link to the Thai Chana website which must be scanned into customers’ smartphones on entry to local shopping malls. The data collected apparently refers to just the phone number itself and the time and date the mall was entered. In addition, the scan needs to be done again on exiting the shopping areas as well as when entering any individual shops in the complex.

Not unexpectedly, once the scheme was published, expat community social media forums were alive with concerns about banking and other aspects of smartphone privacy, with many mentioning the day’s other top news that a protection of privacy bill at present in debate was being put back until next year. Many posters said they’d revert to using their old, non-internet phones, although others stated correctly that those without phones would still be admitted to the malls after they’d signed their names and given their phone numbers. Others wrote they’d been to a mall, simply signed in and weren’t asked to sign out when they left, with a few insisting they’d never visit a mall again.

The queues to sign in or scan were mentioned as a conspicuous lack of social distancing, especially as the government had given the reason for the scheme as the ease of tracing all who’d been in the mall at the same time as a person who’d later tested positive for the virus. The information required, it seems, just makes it easier to contact everyone at risk, get them tested and possibly quarantine where necessary. However, given recent reports of government officials making less than polite comments about the country’s expat population, the furore the scheme has caused may well be justified.
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