The Olympics are China’s chance to show off its vision for the future

China is looking at the games as its showcase for not just its athletes and the country’s culture, but also its technological sophistication and its investments in the future.

The Olympics are China’s chance to show off its vision for the future

The 2022 Winter Olympics have evolved into more than just a test for China’s ability to pull off a massive event

Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

Today marks both the beginning of the 2022 Winter Olympics and China’s second-ever time hosting the event, with Beijing becoming one of only 10 cities to host more than one Olympics Games.

More so than perhaps any other country, China is looking at the games as its showcase for not just its athletes and the country’s culture, but also its technological sophistication and its investments in the future. But the lengths the country now goes to maintain control over online and offline behavior have put an uncomfortable spotlight on China’s Olympic preparations.

A lot has changed since Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. China’s status in the world has risen substantially, reflecting its vast economic and geopolitical might and its chillier relationship with the U.S. and Western world at large.

  • Among the most pronounced of these changes is China’s commitment to tech and its intense desire to be seen at the forefront of innovation.
  • Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen the rise of some of the world’s largest and most powerful tech companies out of China, from Alibaba to Tencent.
  • As my colleague Zeyi Yang noted earlier this week, China is using the games to hammer this point home. It has deployed cocktail-pouring robots in the Olympic Village, installed futuristic remote-controlled beds for visitors and implemented its new digital currency system, eCNY, for its first international test.

There’s profound wariness regarding China’s tech and track record. The country’s state surveillance apparatus and its tight control over internet activity and displays of dissent have been a focal point of international concern with the 2022 games, in addition to mounting tensions with the CCP over its growing list of geopolitical and humanitarian crises.

  • China’s official (and mandatory) health and safety mobile app for Olympic athletes was embroiled in security and privacy concerns, after a report from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab highlighted encryption vulnerabilities in the software. The app also contains censored keywords.
  • U.S. government officials are officially boycotting the games over China’s human rights record, while Team USA is advising its athletes to use burner phones while in the country to avoid potential unwanted surveillance.
  • China has outlined rules for visiting athletes, saying they are subject to Chinese speech laws. That has led to national team warnings, including from the U.S. and Canada, about potential legal trouble for anyone who decides to use the 2022 Winter Games as a stage to express political or social opinions the CCP may find unsavory.

China’s COVID protocols dance with dystopia. The Olympic Village will deploy a so-called closed-loop system that Chinese officials will use to maintain an ultra-strict health and safety regimen and ensure athletes are abiding by local laws and regulations.

  • The aforementioned mobile app will be used to govern athletes’ ability to move about the village, using evidence of negative PCR test results similarly to the controversial green QR code system China has used to control the movement of its citizens and dictate quarantine orders.
  • China’s recently deployed 5G network will be the only way to access the internet inside the Olympic Village, with Chinese officials claiming that athletes will be able to bypass standard restrictions imposed to access censored content, like American social media apps, using special SIM cards.
  • But foreign officials are concerned that even this activity will be surveilled and may subject athletes and other team members to potential legal issues. "It should be assumed that all data and communications in China can be monitored, compromised or blocked," the U.S. Olympic organizing committee wrote in a technical advisory document last month.

The 2022 Winter Olympics have evolved into more than just a test for China’s ability to pull off a massive event with nightmarish logistics and health complications, in the middle of a pandemic, no less. They're also now a demonstration of just how well, or poorly, China’s specific vision for the future — of sports, technology, communication and everything in between — gel with the rest of the world.

A version of this story also appeared in today's Source Code; subscribe here.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

While there remains debate among economists about whether we are officially in a full-blown recession, the signs are certainly there. Like most executives right now, the outlook concerns me.

In any case, businesses aren’t waiting for the official pronouncement. They’re already bracing for impact as U.S. inflation and interest rates soar. Inflation peaked at 9.1% in June 2022 — the highest increase since November 1981 — and the Federal Reserve is targeting an interest rate of 3% by the end of this year.

Keep Reading Show less
Nancy Sansom

Nancy Sansom is the Chief Marketing Officer for Versapay, the leader in Collaborative AR. In this role, she leads marketing, demand generation, product marketing, partner marketing, events, brand, content marketing and communications. She has more than 20 years of experience running successful product and marketing organizations in high-growth software companies focused on HCM and financial technology. Prior to joining Versapay, Nancy served on the senior leadership teams at PlanSource, Benefitfocus and PeopleMatter.


SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.


These two AWS vets think they can finally solve enterprise blockchain

Vendia, founded by Tim Wagner and Shruthi Rao, wants to help companies build real-time, decentralized data applications. Its product allows enterprises to more easily share code and data across clouds, regions, companies, accounts, and technology stacks.

“We have this thesis here: Cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it in,” Wagner (right) told Protocol of his and Shruthi Rao's company.

Photo: Vendia

The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs — the idea that a database or an API could keep corporate data consistent with their business partners, be it their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics, or financial partners.

But while it was one of the most anticipated and hyped technologies in recent memory, blockchain also has been one of the most failed technologies in terms of enterprise pilots and implementations, according to Vendia CEO Tim Wagner.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.


Kraken's CEO got tired of being in finance

Jesse Powell tells Protocol the bureaucratic obligations of running a financial services business contributed to his decision to step back from his role as CEO of one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken is going through a major leadership change after what has been a tough year for the crypto powerhouse, and for departing CEO Jesse Powell.

The crypto market is still struggling to recover from a major crash, although Kraken appears to have navigated the crisis better than other rivals. Despite his exchange’s apparent success, Powell found himself in the hot seat over allegations published in The New York Times that he made insensitive comments on gender and race that sparked heated conversations within the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories