A recent data leak revealed that there is a registry for women’s “Breed Readiness” status and other personal information of Chinese women that is contained inside a binary document that was uncovered by a data researcher as he was searching for open databases in China.
According to Victor Gevers, a Dutch internet expert from GDI.Foundation, a non-profit tech group, the database include personal information of around 1.8 million Chinese women including their name, address, phone numbers and an interesting entry for “BreedReady” status. He posted a series of screenshots of the said database over the weekend.
“In China, they have a shortage of women. So an organization started to build a database to start registering over 1.8 million women,” Gevers wrote on his official Twitter account.
GDI.Foundation reports over a thousand vulnerabilities and data leaks per day. According to Gevers, they investigate the source of the leak to identify the owners of the data and warn them via email.
The database’s server can be traced to be located in China and includes field labeled in English for sex, age, education, marital status, as well as, a column titled “BreedReady,” which could be an inaccurate translation to describe if a woman is of child-bearing age. According to Gevers, anyone who has the IP address of the said database can access its content until it was taken down late on Monday afternoon, local time.
The database appears to be in binary and ones, and zeros are used to determine a “yes” and a “no” with “1” equals to “yes.” The database revealed that the age of women ranges from 15-years-old to 95-years-old. Grevers also said that the average age is 32-years-old.
“The youngest girl in this database is 15 [years] old. The youngest woman with BreadReady: “1” status is 18 [years old]. The average age is a bit above 32 [years old], and the most aged women with a BR: “1” is 39 and with BR:0 is 95,” Gever said.
According to the database, 89 percent of the women are single, 10 percent are divorced, and 1 percent are widowed. Interestingly, most of the women live in the city of Beijing (89%) and only around a tenth lived in a different city. It is still unclear if the database is a registry of women in Beijing only or for the whole of China.
Gevers asked for the help of other tech experts in Twitter to determine the company “which does something with MQTT and [Chinese characters translating to “face network management”].” He said that the organization that created and kept the database referenced a model “M-GM61-12.” According to one Twitter user, MQTT is a Message-subscribe protocol that throws “messages out there for users to subscribe to, it is used in IoT applications where reliability is not critical but the battery is limited, or data is expensive.”
Tech experts in Twitter have noted that the English “BreedReady” headline might be a mistranslation of someone who have given birth already. However, someone also questioned this contention citing that the women in the database are all single, divorced, and widowed and are more likely to have never given birth before.
The uncovering of the said database has opened conversations regarding the official concerns over China‘s falling birth rates. Human rights advocates and critics of China has questioned the position of the Chinese authoritarian government and its strict family planning policies highlighting to what extent will they go to encourage women to have children.
An online thread has highlighted the similarity of the database to the TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale” where women’s value was contingent on their ability to carry children.
“This kind of database is very indicative and frightening,” said one user, adding: “I’m a pessimist and the fact that stories like The Handmaid’s Tale exist means the signs are out there.”
This is not the first that an element from recent China draws so much parallelism with dystopian fictional stories. Last year, millions of people were denied the ability to purchase plane and train tickets because of low “social scores” from being delinquents like not paying taxes or walking dogs without a leash. This Chinese policy has an uncanny resemblance to one of Netflix’s original series, Black Mirror.
Gevers assured that he and his organization will investigate the source of the database and vows to make sure that it will not come back online. “The unprotected database is not reachable anymore for the last five hours. We will keep an eye on that IP address for a while to make sure it doesn’t come back online. We still do not know how the owner was or what the database was actually designed for. When we do we will share this,” he wrote. /apr