According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee is advising athletes to discard their personal phones in favor of burners ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in China (via Android Central). Last year, the warning was apparently sent out twice to athletes to warn them of the likelihood of being monitored online while in China. The alert adds that “any device, communication, transaction, and internet activity may be watched.” “Malicious software may have infiltrated your device(s), which could have a detrimental impact on future use.” According to the WSJ, athletes from the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands have also been advised not to bring their personal electronics into the nation.
The Committee’s concerns are not without merit. China was captured illegally planting spyware on the phones of tourists entering from the Xinjiang province in 2019. The Uyghurs, a primarily Muslim ethnic group who have been imprisoned and tortured by China, live in this highly monitored neighborhood. Furthermore, Citizen Lab discovered that China’s My2022 Olympic app, which all guests must install, is riddled with security flaws that might lead to data leaks, surveillance, and hacking.
The US Department of Homeland Security issued a similar warning for anybody travelling to China during the 2008 Summer Olympics, advising that bringing any gadgets could expose them to “unauthorized access and theft of data by criminal or foreign government forces.” This time, though, things are a little different because China has barred all foreign spectators owing to fears about COVID-19. Athletes will most likely use their mobile devices to communicate with friends and family, which could be more difficult on a burner phone with data, texting, and calling constraints.
Even if the Olympic competitors wish to use their burner phones to browse the internet, they may not be able to do so without restrictions. China pledged unlimited internet access to spectators, media, and athletes during the 2008 Olympics, despite the fact that the Great Firewall of China currently censors a number of major websites in the nation, including Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, and others. China, on the other hand, did not appear to follow through on its pledge. Journalists stated that they were still unable to access specific websites, including BBC China, a number of Hong Kong publications, and Amnesty International’s website.
China has stated once again that athletes and journalists will have unrestricted internet access, although it is unclear whether the regime will continue to ban some websites.