Has it become impossible to organize an Olympic Games to the test of politics?

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Does China spy on Olympic athletes via My2022 Winter Olympic app? You would think the answer is yes if you read mainstream English media like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or The Guardian. The articles in these newspapers all say that the tracking app has security flaws that could be used for spying and strongly imply, but don’t say it clearly, that China is doing something fishy. These stories come amid a greater flurry of negative media coverage of all aspects of Chinese society ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. This in turn is part of a US-led effort to discredit the Chinese government and slow its rise.

The app’s stories are all based on an article by think tank Citizen Lab, which The New York Times describes as a “University of Toronto cybersecurity watchdog.” The Citizen Lab sees itself as a human rights organization working through the prism of communications technology. Its goals include lobbying for a free and unregulated Internet. Part of its funding comes from American foundations linked to the American government. The Citizen Lab article that sparked these stories is titled “Cross-Country Exposure” and begins with a series of alarming points that make it sound like the app will be used to spy on athletes.

However, there are several interesting points that contradict the sensational title and opening paragraphs if the full article is read. First, the document acknowledges that athletes are clearly informed that information from this application may be collected and processed by Chinese authorities, the IOC and “other persons involved in the implementation of the [COVID-19] countermeasures.”

The display of the My2022 application. /Screenshot via Apple App Store

The display of the My2022 application. /Screenshot via Apple App Store

Second, the document recognizes that the Chinese government does not need to illegally spy on the data collected by the app, since that information is submitted directly to the government anyway. The document notes “there would be little instrumental rationality in the government intercepting its own data, since weaknesses in the encryption of the transmission of that information would only aid other parties.”

Third, the newspaper admits that the security flaws it found in the app were probably not deliberate, but rather commonplace. China is always trying to strengthen its security in cyberspace and apps are part of that effort. The newspaper itself said the flaws are “less likely to be the result of a broad government conspiracy, but rather the result of a simpler explanation such as different priorities for software developers in China.” The document notes that similar flaws were found in Zoom developed in China.

Citizen Lab has published separate reports on faulty COVID-19 tracking apps in other countries, but only this China report made major headlines. This is because the Western media has an endless appetite for negative stories about China.

Reading between the lines, it’s not hard to see that the Citizen Lab report isn’t criticizing a security flaw in one app, but the way China is governed as a whole. The structure of the report begins with a sensational headline and deceptively chosen facts from the report that directly contradict the information in the main text.

Disinfection of the Beijing National Stadium, April 12, 2021. / CFP

Disinfection of the Beijing National Stadium, April 12, 2021. / CFP

The report’s introduction does not talk about the application, but repeats a series of complaints against China by the US government and human rights organizations. Essentially, the think tank is using a report of a trivial, inconsequential security breach in an app to criticize the ideology behind China’s system of government.

The author of the report does not believe that information on the Internet should be regulated and that China’s efforts in this direction should be condemned. He doesn’t think the law is enforced fairly in China. He does not believe that minority groups such as Uyghurs or Tibetans are treated fairly. He thinks the privacy concerns are more important than the health benefits of COVID-19 tracking apps in general. These political sentiments come through in every section of the report, even as the report slowly reveals that the flaw is common, not deliberate, and that China has no reason to spy on app data because the information is sent directly to them.

Citizen Lab has in the past written reports on the danger of foreign Internet attacks and propaganda towards Western countries. However, he implicitly regards as illegitimate any effort by a nation like China to shield itself from similar attacks. Previous Citizen Lab reports have focused on China’s internet regulatory system and how to get around it.

At a fundamental ideological level, Citizen Lab views all of China’s efforts to control false rumors about COVID-19, prevent people from spreading information intended to incite hatred between ethnic groups, or undermine government authority as illegitimate and infringing on “human rights”. China’s regulation of this information is considered “censorship”.

China has nothing to be ashamed of, either for the My2022 app or its political system. The app has been endorsed by the International Olympic Committee, Google and Apple. If China is really infringing on human rights, as the Citizen Lab report insinuates, will Citizen Lab accuse the CIO, Google and Apple of being accomplices or partners in this crime?

Supporters of Donald Trump climb the walls of the U.S. Capitol during a protest against Congress’ certification of the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. /Reuters

Supporters of Donald Trump climb the walls of the U.S. Capitol during a protest against Congress’ certification of the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. /Reuters

More importantly, China does not need to justify its successful system of government to the Citizen Lab or the West. Fears that foreign actors could influence the 2016 presidential election distracted the US government for years, divided its people and led to the president’s impeachment. The deadly January 6 attack on the United States Capitol was a direct result of misinformation being spread on unregulated social media sites.

Poorly regulated misinformation has also led to low COVID-19 vaccination rates in the United States and extreme partisanship that has crippled government, generated mistrust of elections and threatens to completely dismantle democracy. American. As you scroll through the front pages of American newspapers, you’ll know that the American public and lawmakers understand that armed lies on social media are tearing their country apart.

This is not happening in China, which China is rightly proud of. But China is neither imitated nor praised, but rather accused of “censorship”. Countries like France and the UK have allowed terrorist threats to spread across their borders, resulting in a continued threat of terrorist attacks. China chose a different path, tackled the threat of a separatist terror campaign at the root and eliminated the problem.

The American media threw all the slander in the book on China in the run-up to the Winter Olympics. They repeated the accusations of American politicians without verifying them, in a way reminiscent of propaganda about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war in Iraq. China has been criticized for its efforts to control COVID-19, its decade-long effort to reduce air pollution, its preparations for the Games and its efforts to keep politics away from Olympic venues. It comes against the backdrop of the most gruesome slander against China imaginable, including genocide, the triggering of a pandemic from a lab leak, and the spread of nuclear missile technology – all done without the slightest evidence and with the intent to harm China.

The Olympics were conceived as an event in which the nations of the world could put aside their inevitable differences for a few weeks in the spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play, building a peaceful and better world.

But it seems that could just as well be a pipe dream.

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