Public Database Lists Personal Details of 1.8 Million Chinese Women, Including Whether They’re ‘BreedReady’
Earlier this week, Dutch cyber expert, Victor Gevers, discovered an open online database that contained the personal information of more than 1.8 million women.
He posted screenshots of the database on Twitter that show fields labeled in English for each woman’s age, education, marital status, and a column titled “BreedReady.” The list also included the women’s phone numbers and residence addresses. The age range of the women spanned from 15 to 95 years, with the youngest “BreedReady” status at 18 years; about 82 percent of the women were listed as living in Beijing.
Gevers has been working with the non-profit group GDI.Foundation, tracking down online data breaches in China. Earlier this February, he made headlines for exposing the SenseNets breach, a Shenzhen-based facial recognition company that was tracking the Muslim population in Xinjiang.
Gevers voiced his initial concern over the database in a tweet: “In China, they have a shortage of women. So an organization started to build a database to start registering over 1.8 million women with all kinds of details like phone numbers, addresses, education, location, ID number, marital status, and a ‘BreedReady’ status?”
This makes sense in the context of the Chinese government’s concern over falling birthrates. Earlier this year, researchers predicted an ‘unstoppable’ population decline in the country after 2029. If fertility rates remain where they are now, China will be facing a future of a declining labor force and rapidly ageing population. Considering China’s gender gap, in which men outnumber women by 70 million, this database seems especially fishy. Many citizens on Douban, a Chinese discussion forum, are likening the database to a ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ scenario of government surveillance and forced impregnation of women.
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However, others have pointed to far more likely possibilities: that this information was culled from dating websites and that the ominous phrase “BreedReady” is simply a poor translation to describe a woman who either has children or is of child-bearing age.
This kind of personal data is being bought and sold all over the world, thanks to Facebook and Google. But what is really alarming, says Gevers, is that this information was freely available in an unsecured database and could be remotely manipulated. The database has since been taken down, however Gevers and his team are still trying to ascertain its source.
This information has the potential to be misused, Gevers says. Based on the responses he got on Twitter, Gevers suggests there is a big demand for data like this, which can be used by online dating companies, for example, to create fake profiles of women and essentially steal people’s identities.
While the concern for data security is an important point, most people are more wary of what this list might represent. In a country that has a reputation as a surveillance state, which treats their women as “leftovers,” and has an economic motive to encourage women to reproduce, the news of this database is particularly ominous. Let’s just hope the parallels to dystopian novels remain parallels and not reality.