12th March 2019
An unprotected database in China with the personal information of more than 1.8 million women — including their phone numbers, addresses and even a “BreedReady” status — has been uncovered by a Dutch cyber expert.
- It is unclear what “BreedReady” means — it could mean women of a child-bearing age or those who already have children
- The unprotected database was no longer accessible since Monday afternoon
- New births in China fell to 15.23 million in 2018 — nearly 2 million fewer than the previous year
Victor Gevers, a researcher with non-profit group GDI.foundation, found the insecure data detailing the women’s identity numbers, education and marital status while searching for open databases in China over the weekend.
He shared his findings in a series of partially redacted screenshots on Twitter in the hope of sourcing more information.
“We still do not know [who] the owner was or what the database was actually designed for,” he wrote on Twitter.
“When we do, we will share this.”
He later told the Times the database was taken offline on Monday afternoon.
It is still unclear what “BreedReady” actually means — some observers speculated it could be a poor English translation of women who are at a “child-bearing age”, while others argued it meant women who “have children”.
According to Mr Gevers’s findings, the youngest woman in the database was just 15 years old, while the oldest was 95. About 82 per cent of the women lived in Beijing.
The database also showed that nearly 90 per cent of the women were single and their average age was 32.
Mr Gevers’s discovery is timely in the context of Chinese government scholars’ recent findings that the country is set to face a long period of “unstoppable” population decline after an expected peak of 1.44 billion people in 2029.
While China abolished its controversial “one-child policy” aimed at curbing population growth in 2016 — allowing couples to have two children — the growth rate continued to slow in 2018.
Numbers released by the National Bureau of Statistics in January showed new births in China fell to 15.23 million in 2018 — nearly 2 million fewer than 2017.
‘This is horrifying’
Chinese netizens were quick to draw comparisons between the database and the television show The Handmaid’s Tale, based on a dystopian future where women are forced to reproduce to repopulate a world facing a plummeting birth rate.
“It’s just so weird … they even have ID numbers, phone numbers, home address and even indication of whether [they are] breed-ready. This is horrifying,” wrote a Weibo user with the nickname Haidaidaiya.
But other users on the social media platform took the opportunity to rebuke Western media for criticising China.
“There are too many liars and some idiots really don’t have enough wisdom — some western media are not dumb, but devious,” another user with the nickname Lansedecaochong posted on Weibo.
Mr Gevers, who also found an unprotected online database containing sensitive personal information of at least 2.5 million residents in the western Xinjiang province last month, also acknowledged the unusual nature of the database.
“I can’t draw a conclusion, but who in their right mind chooses such column names? In an open database?” he wrote on Twitter.
“I have seen a lot of things online but this one must be the weirdest ones out there until so far.”
In addition to details including birthday and residence, the database also has fields labelled “political” and “hasvideo”. Some of the women listed even appear to have links to Facebook profile pages.
“To be honest I hope it was just poor English of the developer,” Mr Gevers told Times, referring to the “BreedReady” status.
“But we simply do not know this for sure.”