The paper chase — the literal one — is about to get cut short amid distances well-traveled. News came Wednesday (June 6) via Reuters that Tencent Holdings is working with the Chinese government, eyeing the WeChat app as a way to substitute for travel documents — the tangible, paper kind.
The move to give a digital leg up to cross-border crossings will focus initially on travelers moving between Hong Kong and China. Tencent demonstrated a procedure on Wednesday, said Reuters, that is termed “Scan WeChat to cross border.” The initiative comes as the border crossings between China and Hong Kong are among the busier corridors in the world, as government data estimates that 230 million travelers passed through land-based checkpoints in 2016 alone.
In the meantime, WeChat has more than 1 billion users. This is not to say that everything is based on dead trees, so to speak. Passports are used, as well as travel cards that use chips to help travelers pass through fingerprint and facial scans. However, if the WeChat proposal gains traction, mobile will be the conduit to getting across the border.
In terms of mechanics, the company seeks to bring to the border crossing the eCard, which works with biometric data. Identity documents would be tied to the app, and Hong Kong and Chinese citizens would be identified through face scans and digital codes. The company already has a pilot program that allows residents of the Chinese Guangdong province use official documents and the app to perform more than 140 government functions, such as paying traffic penalties and even arranging for appointments to conduct weddings or divorces.
There’s been no official embrace of the Tencent proposal from the Hong Kong side of the equation. There was at least some initial acknowledgement, as the newswire stated that Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong, was present and participated in the scanner demonstration offered by the tech company. Tencent pointed to eCard as a way for travelers in Guangdong province, Macau and Hong Kong to enjoy “mobile, seamless travel.”
Tencent maintains that the encrypted algorithms deployed render the data safe.