Online discussion on an app designed to boost Chinese domestic security got heated this week. Chinese netizens dubbed the new app Chaoyang Masses HD (朝阳群众HD), which appeared in the Apple Store on Monday, as a “serious” competitor to CIA, KGB, MI6, and Mossad for its high tech approach to national security.

The app’s “secret weapon” are its agents who are mostly recruited from the ranks of local retirees. The Chaoyang Masses was first formed as a volunteer terrorism patrol in Beijing’s Chaoyang district after the 2014 terrorist attacks on Tiananmen Square and Kunming Railway Station. Since then, thousands of Dama, elderly ladies known for dancing in public plazas, signed up to patrol their neighborhoods and report suspicious activity in exchange for cash rewards.

Screenshots from Chaoyang Masses HD app. China’s retirees may soon outshine the world’s largest intelligence agencies in ensuring national security.
Screenshots from Chaoyang Masses HD app.

The Chaoyang Masses gained notoriety after their efforts led to the arrests of more than a dozen Chinese singers and actors including Jaycee Chan and pop star Mao Ning who were detained over substance abuse. Since then, similar groups of elderly James Bond wannabes have appeared throughout Beijing. According to China Daily’s report from 2015, Beijing’s Xicheng district boasted more than 70,000 volunteers, out of which 753 of them were awarded RMB 560,000 (USD 90,216) for providing tips to the authorities.

China currently has about  136.9 million elderly people, and so the organization may soon surpass its media reputation as the “world’s fifth intelligence agency.” The Chaoyang Masses HD app, launched in August last year, will enable the authorities to place eyes and ears on every dancing plaza in the country. The app has five functions: key cases, missing persons, lost and found, suspects and vehicles. By clicking on the “Report” button, users can send texts, pictures or videos to the police and receive a reward.

In recent years, Chinese authorities have started relying on various means of ensuring social security and stability including social media such as Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. But judging from the United States’ latest example, using apps and social media for mass surveillance can be a double-edged sword.

Screenshot from Richard DeAgazio's Facebook page showing Trump and Abe at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
Screenshot from Richard DeAgazio’s Facebook page showing Trump and Abe at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.

During President Trump’s recent meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a Florida country club, a club member snapped photos of the duo while they were reacting to North Korea’s missile launch and posted them on his Facebook page. The incident was criticized as a serious breach of protocol. Considering the recent national security turmoil in the United States, it looks like the CIA and the NSA may soon find themselves lagging behind the all-powerful Chaoyang Masses.

(Top photo Baidu Images)

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Masha Borak
Masha is an AllChinaTech writer from Croatia. She is a language expert and holds a Master's degree from the University of Zagreb. She is interested in all things tech that she finds it hard to choose what to explore next. Help her by pitching great ideas at masha [at] allchinatech.com.

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