Technology helps track missing relatives quickly

In late 2016, Li Fengqin, 82, went missing in Yanjiao, in north China’s Hebei Province. Twenty-four hours later Zeng Hua was notified she was missing.
Technology helps track missing relatives quickly

Yang Dong, center, director of Criminal Investigation Department under China's Ministry of Public Security (MPS), poses at the launch event of an updated version of Tuanyuan app used to find missing children in Beijing, China, 17 May 2017.

In late 2016, Li Fengqin, 82, went missing in Yanjiao, in north China’s Hebei Province. Twenty-four hours later Zeng Hua was notified she was missing.

After a verification process, Zeng, who runs a missing persons service called Toutiao Xunren on news app, pushed a notification message to the app’s 282,000 users in Yanjiao.

Soon a user contacted Li’s family, saying that she had seen Li on a motorcycle taxi.

The search area was narrowed. Another user reported to police that he had seen the woman near a railway station.

Five hours after Zeng sent the notification Li was found.

Two months later, an elderly woman was reported missing at Beijing West Railway Station. After an hour, her family contacted Toutiao Xunren for help.

Zeng’s team predicted that the woman could have traveled no more than 5 kilometers within that hour and pushed a notification message to users within a 5km radius of the railway station. She was found and reunited with her family.

Last October the Zhongmin Social Assistance Institute and Toutiao jointly released a survey, showing 1,370 senior citizens, with an average age of 76, go missing every day in China.

‘1 message can be seen by many’

The survey noted that many of them suffer from mental illnesses, with 72 percent suffering from some form of memory impairment and 25 percent diagnosed with dementia.

Instead of hanging missing persons notices in the streets, more and more families are now turning to technology for help in locating lost relatives.

Earlier this year, a group of taxi drivers in Shenyang, capital of northeast China’s Liaoning Province, set up a chat group dedicated to locating missing persons on instant messaging service WeChat.

Within the first six months, the group helped reunite 90 missing people with their families.

Taxi driver Qiu Zhongqi, a member of the group, said that when they find lost people, they take them to police stations or homeless shelters, then advise Toutiao Xunren.

“Due to the widespread use of smart phones in China, one message can be seen by many people and spread very fast,” said Qiu.

Toutiao launched the missing person service in February 2016. As of Monday, it had released more than 21,000 missing persons notifications and helped to reunite 3,400 people with their family members, the company said.

41 abducted children located

The service is not the only one of its kind in China. In May 2016, the Ministry of Public Security and the Internet giant Alibaba jointly launched a service called Tuanyuan, or reunion, which releases information about missing children on popular mobile applications.

As of September 1, it had released information on 1,918 children and helped to locate 1,847 lost children across China, including 41 who had been abducted.

However, missing persons services based on technology such as big data are more effective in large cities than in remote rural areas.

In Shanghai, a missing person notification may reach more than 1.7 million Toutiao users within a 5km radius, but in the city of Dingxi in northwest China’s Gansu Province, it would only reach 120 users.

However, technology does offer a better way to search for missing people as it makes communication more effective, according to Wang Lei, a sociologist at Liaoning Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

“Some online platforms have a large number of users. One notification can mobilize all of them, old and young, men and women, to offer help,” said Wang.

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