A Chinese tech company is using a Mickey Mouse-shaped ‘band-aid’ to monitor quarantined people in 20 cities. He is now making his Olympic debut.

The gadget in question is a temperature-tracking “band-aid” roughly the size of an American quarter that is worn by staff and volunteers in the curling arena. The gadget adheres directly to the wearer’s skin and transmits their temperature to a database. Managers are able to monitor the collected data in real time, browsing live data streams to identify any abnormal changes in wearers’ body temperature.

The thermometer was developed by Refresh Inc., based in Shenzhen. Wang Lei, director of sales and marketing for Refresh, said the company’s goal is to prevent large-scale transmission of the coronavirus.

“These thermometers are like sentries,” Wang told Insider in a Chinese-language interview. “We are proud that our technology is helping to create clean and safe Olympics that can be seen by the world.”

Real-time body temperature tracking

Refresh took about a year to develop the thermometers and began using them on a large scale in June, when it helped municipal officials in 20 Chinese cities monitor quarantined people, Wang said. To date, more than 100,000 coins have been issued or sold to the public, he said.

Now, with the Olympics, the company is looking to track the body temperature of multiple wearers on a wider site.

“We believe this is a leap forward in pandemic control measures,” Wang said. “Where most temperature checks end when the person enters a venue, our thermometers continue to monitor body temperature even inside the venue, which can detect any delayed or sudden onset of symptoms.”

Staff and volunteers at curling competitions, all of which are held at the Beijing National Aquatics Center, are required to wear the thermometer throughout the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Wang was unable to disclose the number of thermometers currently in use at the Olympics due to a nondisclosure agreement. He added that only staff and volunteers wear the thermometer, not athletes, because competition rules state that athletes cannot wear clothing or items that are not related to the game.

The Beijing Winter Olympics Organizing Committee did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

The thermometers measure just under an inch in diameter and weigh about 0.07 ounces per piece. Their temperature-tracking sensors have a margin of error of 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 degrees Fahrenheit), which is similar to mercury-based ones certified by Chinese authorities, Wang said. Batteries in thermometers can last up to a month and can be replaced, he added.

To monitor the data, Refresh installed base stations and workstations at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing. Computer algorithms will detect abnormal changes in body temperature and alert on-site health officials, who will escort the person to a separate area for further examinations, Wang said.

Thermometers are part of the wave of technological innovations, called “black technology” by Chinese media, used during games. Server robots and an ice machine that can determine the degree of coldness or hardness of the ice surface is also part of these innovations. Chinese officials and state media have repeatedly noted the Olympics are a perfect opportunity to showcase Chinese innovation.

Wang said no coronavirus cases have been detected by thermometers at the Olympics so far.

Legal experts say the use of these thermometers highlights, once again, the delicate balance governments and businesses must strike between prioritizing privacy and the need to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Thermometers could impact wearers’ privacy, said Singapore-based lawyer Shaun Leong, and there must be proper rules in place regarding their use.

While some may argue that body temperatures are not enough to identify an individual and erode that person’s privacy, Leong said the reality is that “this single data point can lead to a series of investigations into a variety of private and personal questions, such as if someone has been vaccinated, what type of vaccine did they choose, if someone might be an anti-vaccine.”

Xia Hailong, a Shanghai-based lawyer who specializes in data privacy issues, told Insider that thermometer data should be used in a very narrow and specific sense. He said Chinese law provides safeguards for the protection of personal data, and the personal data of these thermometers will fall under the same framework.

“Ultimately, the protection of personal data must strike a good balance between the needs of individuals, businesses and governments,” he said.

“All of this data is to be used only for the very specific purpose of preventing the spread of the virus on the venue, and only during the curling competitions at the Beijing Games,” Xia added.

Evelyn C. Tobin