elections, the war in Ukraine and abortion.

TikTok’s algorithm tends to keep people on the app, making it harder for them to turn to additional sources to fact-check searches, Ms. Tripodi added.

“You aren’t really clicking to anything that would lead you out of the app,” she said. “That makes it even more challenging to double-check the information you’re getting is correct.”

TikTok has leaned into becoming a venue for finding information. The app is testing a feature that identifies keywords in comments and links to search results for them. In Southeast Asia, it is also testing a feed with local content, so people can find businesses and events near them.

Building out search and location features is likely to further entrench TikTok — already the world’s most downloaded app for those ages 18 to 24, according to Sensor Tower — among young users.

TikTok “is becoming a one-stop shop for content in a way that it wasn’t in its earlier days,” said Lee Rainie, who directs internet and technology research at the Pew Research Center.

That’s certainly true for Jayla Johnson, 22. The Newtown, Pa., resident estimated that she watches 10 hours of TikTok videos a day and said she had begun using the app as a search engine because it was more convenient than Google and Instagram.

“They know what I want to see,” she said. “It’s less work for me to actually go out of my way to search.”

Ms. Johnson, a digital marketer, added that she particularly appreciated TikTok when she and her parents were searching for places to visit and things to do. Her parents often wade through pages of Google search results, she said, while she needs to scroll through only a few short videos.

“God bless,” she said she thinks. “You could have gotten that in seconds.”

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TikTok’s CEO Navigates the Limits of His Power

TikTok recently tried to tamp down concerns from U.S. lawmakers that it poses a national security threat because it is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance. The viral video app insisted it had an arm’s-length relationship with ByteDance and that its own executive was in charge.

“TikTok is led by its own global C.E.O., Shou Zi Chew, a Singaporean based in Singapore,” TikTok wrote in a June letter to U.S. lawmakers.

But in fact, Mr. Chew’s decision-making power over TikTok is limited, according to 12 former TikTok and ByteDance employees and executives.

Zhang Yiming, ByteDance’s founder, as well as by a top ByteDance strategy executive and the head of TikTok’s research and development team, said the people, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. TikTok’s growth and strategy, which are led by ByteDance teams, report not to Mr. Chew but to ByteDance’s office in Beijing, they said.

increasingly questioned TikTok’s data practices, reigniting a debate over how the United States should treat business relationships with foreign companies.

On Wednesday, TikTok’s chief operating officer testified in Congress and downplayed the app’s China connections. On Thursday, President Biden signed an executive order to sharpen the federal government’s powers to block Chinese investment in tech in the United States and to limit its access to private data on citizens.

a March interview with the billionaire investor David Rubenstein, whose firm, the Carlyle Group, has a stake in the Chinese giant. Mr. Chew added that he had become familiar with TikTok as a “creator” and amassed “185,000 followers.” (He appeared to be referring to a corporate account that posted videos of him while he was an executive at Xiaomi, one of China’s largest phone manufacturers.)

Jinri Toutiao. The two built a rapport, and an investment vehicle associated with Mr. Milner led a $10 million financing in Mr. Zhang’s company that same year, three people with knowledge of the deal said.

The news aggregator eventually became ByteDance — now valued at around $360 billion, according to PitchBook — and owns TikTok; its Chinese sister app, Douyin; and various education and enterprise software ventures.

By 2015, Mr. Chew had joined Xiaomi as chief financial officer. He spearheaded the device maker’s 2018 initial public offering, led its international efforts and became an English-speaking face for the brand.

“Shou grew up with both American and Chinese language and culture surrounding him,” said Hugo Barra, a former Google executive who worked with Mr. Chew at Xiaomi. “He is objectively better positioned than anyone I’ve ever met in the China business world to be this incredible dual-edged executive in a Chinese company that wants to become a global powerhouse.”

In March 2021, Mr. Chew announced that he was joining ByteDance as chief financial officer, fueling speculation that the company would go public. (It remains privately held.)

appointed Mr. Chew as chief executive, with Mr. Zhang praising his “deep knowledge of the company and industry.” Late last year, Mr. Chew stepped down from his ByteDance role to focus on TikTok.

Kevin Mayer, a former Disney executive, left after the Trump administration’s effort to sunder the app from its Chinese parent. China was also cracking down on its domestic internet giants, with Mr. Zhang resigning from his official roles at ByteDance last year. Mr. Zhang remains involved in decision making, people with knowledge of ByteDance said.

Mr. Chew moved to establish himself as TikTok’s new head during visits to the app’s Los Angeles office in mid-2021. At a dinner with TikTok executives, he sought to build camaraderie by keeping a Culver City, Calif., restaurant open past closing time, three people with knowledge of the event said. He asked attendees if he should buy the establishment to keep it open longer, they said.

a TikTok NFT project involving the musical artists Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch. He reprimanded TikTok’s global head of marketing on a video call with Beijing-based leaders for ByteDance after some celebrities dropped out of the project, four people familiar with the meeting said. It showed that Mr. Chew answered to higher powers, they said.

Mr. Chew also ended a half-developed TikTok store off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, three people familiar with the initiative said. TikTok briefly explored obtaining the naming rights of the Los Angeles stadium formerly known as the Staples Center, they said.

He has also overseen layoffs of American managers, two people familiar with the decisions said, while building up teams related to trust and safety. In its U.S. marketing, the app has shifted its emphasis from a brand that starts trends and conversations toward its utility as a place where people can go to learn.

In May, Mr. Chew flew to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, speaking with European regulators and ministers from Saudi Arabia to discuss digital strategy.

June letter to U.S. lawmakers, he noted that ByteDance employees in China could gain access to the data of Americans when “subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls.” But he said TikTok was in the process of separating and securing its U.S. user data under an initiative known as Project Texas, which has the app working with the American software giant Oracle.

“We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms,” Mr. Chew wrote.

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How Mark Zuckerberg Is Leading Meta Into Its Next Phase

SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of the company formerly known as Facebook, called his top lieutenants for the social network to a last-minute meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area this month. On the agenda: a “work-athon” to discuss the road map for improving the main Facebook app, including a revamp that would change how users browse the service.

For weeks beforehand, Mr. Zuckerberg had sent his executives messages about the overhaul, pressing them to increase the velocity and execution of their work, people with knowledge of the matter said. Some executives — who had to read a 122-page slide deck about the changes — were beginning to sweat at the unusual level of intensity, they said.

Facebook’s leaders flew in from around the world for the summit, the people said, and Mr. Zuckerberg and the group pored over each slide. Within days, the team unveiled an update to the Facebook app to better compete with a top rival, TikTok.

trimmed perks, reshuffled his leadership team and made it clear he would cut low-performing employees. Those who are not on board are welcome to leave, he has said. Managers have sent out memos to convey the seriousness of the approach — one, which was shared with The New York Times, had the title “Operating With Increased Intensity.”

the so-called metaverse. Across Silicon Valley, he and other executives who built what many refer to as Web 2.0 — a more social, app-focused version of the internet — are rethinking and upending their original vision after their platforms were plagued by privacy stumbles, toxic content and misinformation.

The moment is reminiscent of other bet-the-company gambles, such as when Netflix killed off its DVD-mailing business last decade to focus on streaming. But Mr. Zuckerberg is making these moves as Meta’s back is against the wall. The company is staring into the barrel of a global recession. Competitors like TikTok, YouTube and Apple are bearing down.

And success is far from guaranteed. In recent months, Meta’s profits have fallen and revenue has slowed as the company has spent lavishly on the metaverse and as the economic slowdown has hurt its advertising business. Its stock has plunged.

“When Mark gets super focused on something, it becomes all hands on deck within the company,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook policy director and the founder of Anchor Change, a consulting firm that works on tech and democracy issues. “Teams will quickly drop other work to pivot to the issue at hand, and the pressure is intense to move fast to show progress.”

Andrew Bosworth, who is known as Boz, to chief technology officer, leading hardware efforts for the metaverse. He promoted other loyalists, too, including Javier Olivan, the new chief operating officer; Nick Clegg, who became president of global affairs; and Guy Rosen, who took on a new role of chief information security officer.

In June, Sheryl Sandberg, who was Mr. Zuckerberg’s No. 2 for 14 years, said she would step down this fall. While she spent more than a decade building Facebook’s advertising systems, she was less interested in doing the same for the metaverse, people familiar with her plans have said.

Mr. Zuckerberg has moved thousands of workers into different teams for the metaverse, training their focus on aspirational projects like hardware glasses, wearables and a new operating system for those devices.

“It’s an existential bet on where people over the next decade will connect, express and identify with one another,” said Matthew Ball, a longtime tech executive and the author of a book on the metaverse. “If you have the cash, the engineers, the users and the conviction to take a swing at that, then you should.”

But the efforts are far from cheap. Facebook’s Reality Labs division, which is building augmented and virtual reality products, has dragged down the company’s balance sheet; the hardware unit lost nearly $3 billion in the first quarter alone.

privacy changes from Apple that have hampered its ability to measure the effectiveness of ads on iPhones. TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app, has stolen young audiences from Meta’s core apps like Instagram and Facebook. These challenges are coinciding with a brutal macroeconomic environment, which has pushed Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter to freeze or slow hiring.

a memo last month, Chris Cox, Meta’s chief product officer, said the economic environment called for “leaner, meaner, better executing teams.”

In an employee meeting around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg said he knew that not everyone would be on board for the changes. That was fine, he told employees.

“I think some of you might decide that this place isn’t for you, and that self-selection is OK with me,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.”

Another memo circulated internally among workers this month was titled “Operating With Increased Intensity.” In the memo, a Meta vice president said managers should begin to “think about every person on their team and the value they are adding.”

“If a direct report is coasting or a low performer, they are not who we need; they are failing this company,” the memo said. “As a manager, you cannot allow someone to be net neutral or negative for Meta.”

investment priorities” for the company in the second half of this year.

other prototypes. Bloomberg reported earlier on the smart watch.

posted an update to his Facebook profile, noting some coming changes in the app. Facebook would start pushing people into a more video-heavy feed with more suggested content, emulating how TikTok operates.

Meta has been investing heavily in video and discovery, aiming to beef up its artificial intelligence and to improve “discovery algorithms” that suggest engaging content to users without them having to work to find it.

In the past, Facebook has tested major product updates with a few English-speaking audiences to see how they perform before rolling them out more widely. But, this time, the 2.93 billion people around the world who use the social networking app will receive the update simultaneously.

It is a sign, some Meta employees said, of just how much Mr. Zuckerberg means business.

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Payment Data Could Become Evidence of Abortion, Now Illegal in Some States

Digital payments are the default for millions of women of childbearing age. So what will their credit and debit card issuers and financial app providers do when prosecutors seek their transaction data during abortion investigations?

It’s a hypothetical question that’s almost certainly an inevitable one in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade last week. Now that abortion is illegal in several states, criminal investigators will soon begin their hunt for evidence to prosecute those they say violated the law.

Medical records are likely to be the most definitive proof of what now is a crime, but officials who cannot get those may look for evidence elsewhere. The payment trail is likely to be a high priority.

HIPAA — which governs the privacy of a patient’s health records — permits medical and billing records to be released in response to a warrant or subpoena.

“There is a very broad exception to the HIPAA protections for law enforcement,” said Marcy Wilder, a partner and co-head of the global privacy and cybersecurity practice at Hogan Lovells, a law firm. But Ms. Wilder added that the information shared with law enforcement officials could not be overly broad or unrelated to the request. “That is why it matters how companies and health plans are interpreting this.”

Card issuers and networks like Visa and Mastercard generally do not have itemized lists of everything that people pay for when they shop for prescription drugs or other medications online, or when they purchase services at health care providers. But evidence of patronage of, say, a pharmacy that sells only abortion pills could give someone away.

a new state law authorizes residents to file lawsuits against anyone who helped facilitate an abortion.

“With the ruling only coming down late last week, it’s premature to understand the full impact at the state level,” Brad Russell, a USAA spokesman, said via email. “However, USAA will always comply with all applicable laws.”

American Airlines Credit Union, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover, Goldman Sachs, Prosperity Bank USA, Navy Federal Credit Union, US Bank, University of Wisconsin Credit Union, Wells Fargo and Western Union did not return at least two messages seeking comment.

American Express, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo have all announced their intentions to reimburse employees for expenses if they travel to other states for abortions. So far, none have commented about how they would respond to a subpoena seeking the transaction records of the very employees who would be eligible for employer reimbursement.

Amie Stepanovich, vice president of U.S. policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a nonprofit focused on data privacy and protection, said warrants and subpoenas can be accompanied by gag orders, which can prevent companies from even alerting their customers that they’re being investigated.

“They can choose to battle the use of gag orders in court,” she said. “Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t.”

In other instances, prosecutors may not say exactly what they’re investigating when they ask for transaction records. In that case, it’s up to the financial institution to request more information or try to figure it out on its own.

Paying for abortion services with cash is one possible way to avoid detection, even if it isn’t possible for people ordering pills online. Many abortion funds pay on behalf of people who need financial help.

But cash and electronic transfers of money are not entirely foolproof.

“Even if you are paying with cash, the amount of residual information that can be used to reveal health status and pregnancy status is fairly significant,” said Ms. Stepanovich, referring to potential bread crumbs such as the use of a retailer’s loyalty program or location tracking on a mobile phone when making a cash purchase.

In some cases, users may inadvertently give up sensitive information themselves through apps that track and share their financial behavior.

“The purchase of a pregnancy test on an app where financial history is public is probably the biggest red flag,” Ms. Stepanovich said.

Other advocates mentioned the possibility of using prepaid cards in fixed amounts, like the kinds that people can buy off a rack in a drugstore. Cryptocurrency, they added, usually does leave enough of a trail that achieving anonymity is challenging.

One thing that every expert emphasized is the lack of certainty. But there is an emerging gut feeling that corporations will be in the spotlight at least as much as judges.

“Now, these payment companies are going to be front and center in the fight,” Ms. Caraballo said.

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Apple Sees Virtual-Reality Headset as Its Next Big Thing

Apple’s development of virtual-reality content and software tools is central to creating experiences that give its future headset purpose. Its last major new product, the Apple Watch, was launched with about 3,000 apps but struggled to take off because tech reviewers said few of those apps were useful. Similar shortcomings have dogged Meta’s Quest virtual-reality headset, which surpassed 10 million sales last year, because many view it as a gaming device.

From its original Macintosh to its iPad, Apple has pursued products that attract a broad swath of potential customers and have an array of uses. It sold an estimated 240 million iPhones last year, accounting for about half of its $366 billion in total sales. To make the headset worthwhile, analysts said, it will need to have utilities that transcend the niche world of video games.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has been talking about the potential of augmented reality for years. In 2016, he told investors that the company was investing heavily in it and considered it a “great commercial opportunity.” Around that time, many employees on Apple’s campus were reading “Ready Player One,” a futuristic novel about virtual reality, and talking about the possibilities of creating Apple’s own mixed-reality world.

Apple hired an engineer from Dolby Technologies, Mike Rockwell, and tasked him with leading the effort. His early efforts to create an augmented-reality product were hobbled by weak computing power, two people familiar with the project said. Continuing challenges with its battery power have forced Apple to postpone its release until next year, those people said.

The augmented-reality initiative has been divisive inside Apple. At least two members of its industrial design team said they had left the company, in part, because they had some concerns about developing a product that might change the way people interact with one another. Such sensitivities have increased inside the company amid rising public concern about children’s screen time.

With Mr. Rockwell at the helm, the product would be one of the first to come out of Apple led by its engineering team rather than its co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, and its former design chief, Jony Ive, who left the company in 2019. The Apple Watch project was led by Mr. Ive and his designers, who defined how it looked, operated and was marketed.

Mr. Favreau’s programming shows how Apple is trying to differentiate its product from Meta’s. It also illustrates how the company is tapping into the relationships it has cultivated in Hollywood since starting Apple TV+ in 2019.

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How You’re Still Being Tracked on the Internet

While Meta adjusts, some small businesses have begun seeking other avenues for ads. Shawn Baker, the owner of Baker SoftWash, an exterior cleaning company in Mooresville, N.C., said it previously took about $6 of Facebook ads to identify a new customer. Now it costs $27 because the ads do not find the right people, he said.

Mr. Baker has started spending $200 a month to advertise through Google’s marketing program for local businesses, which surfaces his website when people who live in the area search for cleaners. To compensate for those higher marketing costs, he has raised his prices 7 percent.

“You’re spending more money now than what you had to spend before to do the same things,” he said.

Other tech giants with first-party information are capitalizing on the change. Amazon, for example, has reams of data on its customers, including what they buy, where they reside, and what movies or TV shows they stream.

In February, Amazon disclosed the size of its advertising business — $31.2 billion in revenue in 2021 — for the first time. That makes advertising its third-largest source of sales after e-commerce and cloud computing. Amazon declined to comment.

Amber Murray, the owner of See Your Strength in St. George, Utah, which sells stickers online for people with anxiety, started experimenting with ads on Amazon after the performance of Facebook ads deteriorated. The results were remarkable, she said.

In February, she paid about $200 for Amazon to feature her products near the top of search results when customers looked up textured stickers. Sales totaled $250 a day and continued to grow, she said. When she spent $85 on a Facebook ad campaign in January, it yielded just $37.50 in sales, she said.

“I think the golden days of Facebook advertising are over,” Ms. Murray said. “On Amazon, people are looking for you, instead of you telling people what they should want.”

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Russia, Blocked From the Global Internet, Plunges Into Digital Isolation

“For the moment I do plan to work in Russia,” he said. “How this may change in the future, especially if YouTube will be blocked, I don’t know.”

Unlike China, where domestic internet companies have grown into behemoths over more than a decade, Russia does not have a similarly vibrant domestic internet or tech industry.

So as it is cordoned off into its own digital ecosystem, the fallout may be severe. In addition to access to independent information, the future reliability of internet and telecommunications networks, as well as the availability of basic software and services used by businesses and government, is at risk.

Already, Russian telecom companies that operate mobile phone networks no longer have access to new equipment and services from companies like Nokia, Ericsson and Cisco. Efforts by Russian companies to develop new microprocessors were in doubt after Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the largest maker of essential semiconductors, halted shipments to the country. Yandex, Russia’s largest internet company, with a search engine more widely used than Google in Russia, warned it might default on its debts because of the crisis.

“The whole IT, hardware and software market that Russia relies on is gravely damaged right now,” said Aliaksandr Herasmenka, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s program on democracy and technology. The Russian authorities could respond by loosening rules that have made it illegal to download pirated software, he said.

The Ukrainian government has also pressured internet service providers to sever access in Russia. Officials from Ukraine have asked ICANN, the nonprofit group that oversees internet domains, to suspend the Russian internet domain “.ru.” The nonprofit has resisted these requests.

Denis Lyashkov, a self-taught web developer with more than 15 years of experience, said Russia’s censorship campaign was “devastating” for those who had grown up with a less restricted internet.

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Twitter Wants to Reinvent Itself, by Merging the Old With the New

The Bluesky project would eventually allow for the creation of new curation algorithms, which would show different tweets at the top of users’ timelines than Twitter’s own algorithm. It would give users more choice about the kinds of content they saw, Mr. Dorsey said, and could allow Twitter to interoperate with other social media services.

Bluesky grabbed the attention of many technologists who were already working on decentralization. Soon small groups of them were meeting with Mr. Agrawal and Mr. Dorsey on Sundays to discuss the project, according to two participants who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings, while others traded ideas in an online chat room.

Some Bluesky participants proposed a single app that piped in all their social media feeds. Others wanted custom algorithms that could, for instance, block them from seeing spoilers about their favorite TV show. And some were focused on making their online identities portable, so that an account could be moved between social media companies the way a phone number can be moved from AT&T to Verizon.

“One of the things that Bluesky would offer is curation and filtering experiences that are independent of those offered by the social media proprietorships,” said Tim Bray, an internet software pioneer and a former vice president at Amazon who participated in some of the discussions.

Jay Graber, a cryptocurrency developer, was selected in August to lead the Bluesky organization. And in February, Ms. Graber announced that the project had officially registered as a public benefit corporation and was building a prototype.

The project caught the attention of engineers at Reddit, who had preliminary discussions with Twitter engineers about how their sites might someday interoperate, two people familiar with the conversations said, but the companies have not formally agreed to any plans to work together.

Some skeptics believe Twitter is jumping on the web3 bandwagon, joining a trendy movement in tech to shift many services, including social media, to so-called blockchain technology. But executives say that Twitter is catering to what an overwhelming number of users want, while following the decentralization mandate laid out by Mr. Dorsey before he departed as C.E.O. in November.

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Google Plans Privacy Changes, but Promises to Not Be Disruptive

Google said on Wednesday that it was working on privacy measures meant to limit the sharing of data on smartphones running its Android software. But the company promised those changes would not be as disruptive as a similar move by Apple last year.

Apple’s changes to its iOS software on iPhones asked users for permission before allowing advertisers to track them. Apple’s permission controls — and, ultimately, the decision by users to block tracking — have had a profound impact on internet companies that built businesses on so-called targeted advertising.

Google did not provide an exact timeline for its changes, but said it would support existing technologies for at least two more years.

This month, Meta, the company founded as Facebook, said Apple’s privacy changes would cost it $10 billion this year in lost advertising revenue. The revelation weighed on Meta’s stock price and led to concerns about other companies reliant on digital advertising.

revamp its approach to eliminating so-called cookies, a tracking tool, on Chrome while facing resistance from privacy groups and advertisers.

Google said it was proposing some new privacy-minded approaches in Android to allow advertisers to gauge the performance of ad campaigns and show personalized ads based on past behavior or recent interests — as well as new tools to limit covert tracking through apps. Google did not offer much in terms of detail about how these new alternatives would work.

As part of the changes, Google said, it plans to phase out Advertising ID, a tracking feature within Android that helps advertisers know whether users clicked on an ad or bought a product as well as keep tabs on their interests and activities. Google said it already allowed users to opt out of personalized ads by removing the tracking identifier.

The company said it planned to eliminate identifiers used in advertising on Android for everyone — including Google. Mr. Chavez said Google’s own apps would not have special or privileged access to Android data or features without specifying how that would work. This echoes a pledge Google made to regulators in Britain that it would not give preferential treatment to its own products.

The company did not offer a definitive timeline for eliminating Advertising ID, but it committed to keeping the existing system in place for two years. Google said it would offer preview versions of its new proposals to advertisers, before releasing a more complete test version this year.

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China’s Covid-Era Controls May Outlast the Coronavirus

The police had warned Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer, not to go to Shanghai to visit the mother of a dissident. He went to the airport anyway.

His phone’s health code app — a digital pass indicating possible exposure to the coronavirus — was green, which meant he could travel. His home city, Changsha, had no Covid-19 cases, and he had not left in weeks.

Then his app turned red, flagging him as high risk. Airport security tried to put him in quarantine, but he resisted. Mr. Xie accused the authorities of meddling with his health code to bar him from traveling.

model of secure order, in contrast to the “chaos of the West.” In the two years since officials isolated the city of Wuhan in the first lockdown of the pandemic, the Chinese government has honed its powers to track and corral people, backed by upgraded technology, armies of neighborhood workers and broad public support.

zero Covid” approach has helped keep infections low, while the death toll continues to grow in the United States and elsewhere. But Chinese officials have at times been severe, isolating young children from their parents or jailing people deemed to have broken containment rules.

City officials did not respond to questions about assertions by Mr. Xie, the lawyer. While it is hard to know what goes on in individual cases, the government itself has signaled it wants to use these technologies in other ways.

Officials have used pandemic health monitoring systems to flush out fugitives. Some fugitives have been tracked down by their health codes. Others who avoided the apps have found life so difficult that they have surrendered.

health code. Residents sign up for the system by submitting their personal information in one of a range of apps. The health code is essentially required, because without it, people cannot enter buildings, restaurants or even parks. Before the pandemic, China already had a vast ability to track people using location data from cellphones; now, that monitoring is far more expansive.

expanded their definition of close contact to include people whose cellphone signals were recorded within as much as half a mile of an infected person.

The party’s experiment in using data to control the flow of people has helped keep Covid at bay. Now these same tools potentially give officials greater power to manage other challenges.

as a model for how China can use technology to address social problems.

Since 2020, Hangzhou has also used video cameras on streets to check whether residents are wearing masks. One district monitored home power consumption to check whether residents were sticking to quarantine orders. The central city of Luoyang installed sensors on the doors of residents quarantining at home, in order to notify officials if they were opened.

crashed twice in two weeks, disrupting the lives of residents who had to update their apps each day with proof that they had taken Covid tests.

By focusing on technology and surveillance, Chinese officials may be neglecting other ways of protecting lives, such as expanding participation in public health programs, wrote Chen Yun, a scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai, in a recent assessment of China’s response to Covid.

state media — roughly one in every 250 adults. Under the grid management system, cities, villages and towns are divided into sections, sometimes of just a few blocks, which are then assigned to individual workers.

During normal times, their duties included pulling weeds, mediating disputes and keeping an eye on potential troublemakers.

Amid the pandemic, those duties mushroomed.

take out their trash.

They also were given powerful new tools.

The central government has directed the police, as well as internet and telephone companies, to share information about residents’ travel history with community workers so that the workers can decide whether residents are considered high-risk.

a woman who was eight months pregnant because her Covid test result had expired hours earlier. She lost the baby, an episode that inspired widespread public fury. But some blamed the heavy burden placed upon low-level workers to stamp out infections.

“In their view, it’s always preferable to go too far than be too soft-handed, but that’s the pressure created by the environment nowadays,” Li Naitang, a retired worker in Xi’an, said of local officials.

Still, for defenders of China’s stringent measures, the results are undeniable. The country has recorded only 3.3 coronavirus deaths per million residents, compared to about 2,600 per million in the United States. In mid-January, Xi’an officials announced zero new infections; this past week, the lockdown was lifted entirely.

The government’s success in limiting infections means its strategy has earned something that has proved elusive in many other countries: widespread support.

published an analysis of each province’s criteria for a health code to turn from green to yellow. It concluded that, for most provinces, the answer was unclear.

“You never know if your planned itinerary will be canceled, or if your travel plans can be realized,” the article said.

local news report. Eighteen summonses were successfully delivered as a result.

Local governments across China have sought to assure people that their health code data will not be abused. The central government has also issued regulations promising data privacy. But many Chinese people assume that the authorities can acquire whatever information they want, no matter the rules.

Zan Aizong, a former journalist in Hangzhou, says the expansion of surveillance could make it even easier for the authorities to break up dissenters’ activities. He has refused to use the health code, but it means moving around is difficult, and he finds it hard to explain his reasoning to workers at checkpoints.

“I can’t tell them the truth — that I’m resisting the health code over surveillance,” he said, “because if I mentioned resistance, they’d think that was ridiculous.”

Joy Dong, Liu Yi and Li You contributed reporting and research.

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