New Covid app rule sparks rush for cheap phones

Some smartphone retailers said on Monday they had sold out of cheaper models as customers rushed to buy mobiles to comply with a new rule making use of the LeaveHomeSafe app compulsory at government buildings.

A shopkeeper surnamed Chan in Mong Kok’s Sin Tat Plaza said she sold around 20 low-priced or older model smartphones on Sunday, mostly to elderly people.

“I installed [the app] for the elderly people if they didn’t know how to… Some people really don’t know how to use a smartphone, just like the customer I served just now. She has never used a smartphone,” Chan said.

A customer surnamed Lam said he was happy to pay HK$800 for a new phone, just for using the government app.

“I didn’t want to install the app on the phone I’m using, because I heard the app will have access to my browsing data and my photos. I know the government has said that the app won’t access my data, but phones are so cheap these days, so I bought a new one to install the app,” he said.

The government said earlier that the app needs access to storage space on people’s phones because it saves check-in information, adding that cloud-based technology used to convert images to text requires access to a user’s mobile network, media and files.

Officials have stressed, however, that LeaveHomeSafe does not automatically send people’s data to the authorities.

A shop selling used phones on Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po also reported good business, saying its HK$399 smartphones – the lowest-priced model it offers – were sold out.

One customer said she would look elsewhere for cheap alternatives, saying the brand or model wasn’t important, as long as the app worked on the phone.