China’s largest social media network, WeChat, is set to become an official electronic personal identification system in the country, with a WeChat ID pilot program launched in Guangzhou’s Nansha District.
On Monday, the authorities in the southern province of Guangzhou announced that its citizens will soon be able to identify themselves through WeChat (‘Weixin’ in China), Xinhua reported. The virtual ID card will be as valid as a paper identification issued by the Chinese state, it added.
It will provide access to online and offline government services and other things that require authentication such as hotel registration and ticketing. The move is aimed at preventing online identity theft, thanks to facial recognition technology used to verify applicants before providing them with online IDs.
The ID cards are available in “lightweight” format when a simple proof of identity is needed and in “upgraded” format for more complicated cases, including those requiring business registration.
Over 30,000 people have applied for WeChat ID cards in the 24 hours following the launch of the trial. According to Xinhua, the program will swiftly cover the whole of Guangzhou, before being expanded to other regions of the country starting from January 2018.
The ID card project was co-developed by the research institute of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and WeChat developers Tencent, with the support of the banking sector and several other government agencies.
According to Tencent, WeChat had 980 million monthly active users as of late September, making it the top social network in China.