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opinion

Security walks in front of the Wukesong Sports Centre, in Beijing, on Jan. 18.NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday morning, I could no longer get into the health monitoring section of the Beijing 2022 app on my phone.

This was a problem because for the two weeks before travelling to China, Beijing organizers expect you to fill out a daily yes/no daily checklist. It’s the usual litany of COVID-19 symptoms including this beauty: “Other discomfort.”

Yes. Occasionally. I’m glad you asked. Are you sure you have time to talk about it?

The presumption is that if you miss a day, Chinese authorities may use that as a pretext to deny you entry.

Everyone knows the app is nonsense. You could fill out whatever you like. You’re still getting double-tested before you fly, and then tested again as soon as you land. The app’s contribution to public safety is less than nothing.

Plus, everyone knows the app’s real function is monitoring people. Since all Olympic visitors must have it on their phone, which must be turned on at all times, that means keeping track of everyone all of the time.

This is why we only installed it after being given geriatric burner phones that will be put through a woodchipper as soon as we return from Beijing. We have been repeatedly reminded in e-mails containing many ALL CAPS WARNINGS that we are not under any circumstances to bring our own devices to China.

On Tuesday morning, via this very newspaper, we received the unwelcome – if not unsurprising – confirmation that the app is as buggy as a beehive.

According to research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the app (called My 2022) has a “devastating flaw” that allows its encryption to be easily bypassed. By whom, I (do not) wonder?

It contains a list of censored word combos. It’s got a function that allows you to report “politically sensitive content.” It’s got a cute cartoon bear on the opening page.

It’s essentially a My L’il Youth Cadre starter kit.

In that case, the joke’s on China. If this was an energy summit or a trade delegation, then I get it. But it isn’t. It’s a glorified track meet.

They appear to have gone to enormous trouble and expense, with potentially embarrassing PR implications, to keep tabs on a bunch of sportswriters. This may be the stupidest black op in the history of spycraft.

You know what sportswriters talk about? Sports. You know what else they talk about? Each other. And you know what else? Nothing. That’s all they talk about – sports, each other and each other at the sports. Sometimes they talk about which bars in which cities are the best, but that won’t apply in this instance.

Most of it isn’t talking, as such. It’s more correct to call it complaining, sometimes leaning toward whining.

If China wants to know which way Canada is leaning on Arctic sovereignty, they will be disappointed. But if they’re looking to hear a lot of cruel and unconstructive criticism about how they screwed up the mixed-zone arrangements at the figure skating, the English-to-Mandarin interpreters should not be the sort of people whose feelings are easily hurt.

If they want to listen in on communications home, I can supply them with a broad outline of sensitive topics that will be addressed: “The jet lag is murder.” “They don’t pay me enough for this.” “The food could be better.” “I didn’t pack right.” “The WiFi is terrible.” “They don’t pay me enough for this.”

Everyone looks back moony-eyed on every Olympics they’ve attended, but in the thick of it, it’s just endless complaining about logistics. It’s how we do.

The beauty of Beijing is that you go into it fully expecting it to be an administrative nightmare. Your internal bar is so low that you’d need to dig a hole to get under it.

In fairness, many of us reporters have written some not-so-nice things about China in the lead-up to this thing. So it isn’t a wild leap to expect they might hold a small grudge. But just a small one. I don’t mind some jostling at the checkpoints, but I draw the line at getting butt-ended with an assault rifle. That would be taking this grudge too far.

A bit of light surveillance is also to be expected. All I can say to whichever sad sack has drawn my number in the Ministry of State Security office pool: Bulk order the NoDoz. I do four things at the Olympics: I go to sports, I write about sports, I complain home about stuff and I sleep. If the jet lag is really bad, I might have a frustrated weep in the bathroom. Gird yourself for extreme boredom.

What would be really constructive is if my personal spy would contact me beforehand. That way I can let them know when I’m not going to be doing anything so they can grab a nap. When I am doing things, I’ll shoot a text.

In return, if I can’t find a ride and need to be picked up by a paddy wagon or a tank, they can send one around. If I need the temperature in the room turned up a bit, they can threaten the hotel manager with a detention camp. If they want, I can pretend to talk politics for 10 minutes with myself. It’s an obvious win-win.

Back to the app failure on Monday morning. No amount of technical savvy (i.e. hitting the home button on the phone harder and harder) did the trick. So I e-mailed the good people at Beijing tech support/My 2022 Spy Central. They fixed the problem in a couple of hours.

“Dear Kelly,” they wrote. “We’re glad to see that the problem has solved. Wish you a pleasant Winter Olympics journey!”

Exclamation mark and all. I don’t know about your spy, but my spy seems like a real sweetheart. I think we’re going to get along great.