Hong Kong scrapped mandatory use of the government Covid-19 tracing mobile app LeaveHomeSafe on Wednesday, which was launched in November 2020 and quickly became a staple of the city’s social-distancing regime.

For most people, the app was simply a tool that enabled them to enter restaurants, government buildings, and other establishments. However, for photographer Paul Yeung, LeaveHomeSafe became a new lens through which he could record the world around him.

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Photo: Paul Yeung

“Over the past two years, we got used to using LeaveHomeSafe to scan QR codes when entering premises such as restaurants, shopping malls, and gyms, but [we] almost never considered it to be a photography tool,” said Yeung.

By “misusing” the app, Yeung utilised his phone’s screenshot function to turn LeaveHomeSafe into an apparatus for capturing images.

“The effect is no different from normal cameras. Of course the resolution is lower, and there is also an additional border of the LeaveHomeSafe screen, but this is the interesting thing about the photos: they depict the mark of an era.”

The photographer said that one reason why people were drawn to his work might be that they linked the app to the fears of growing surveillance.

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Photo: Paul Yeung

While the app has won some awards, it also raised concerns over personal data protection after it was introduced. In May, the government confirmed to defunct news outlet Factwire the existence of a facial recognition feature in the source code of LeaveHomeSafe, but claimed that it was never used.

Although compulsory use of the app is no longer required, Yeung said he would not be uninstalling it just yet. Instead, he plans to continue his project.

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Photo: Paul Yeung
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Photo: Paul Yeung
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Photo: Paul Yeung
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Photo: Paul Yeung
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Photo: Paul Yeung
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Photo: Paul Yeung
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Photo: Paul Yeung
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Photo: Paul Yeung

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