A Robin Hood style hacker claims to have uncovered the database, which includes the personal details of more than 1.8 million women, including their fertility status.
The Handmaid’s Tale-esque discovery has been dubbed a “breedready” list since it was shared on Twitter by Dutch researcher Victor Gevers.
Gevers claims “an organisation started to build a database to start registering over 1.8 million women with all kinds of details like phone numbers, addresses, education, location, ID number, marital status and ‘breedready’ status”.
He suspects the open database was created in response to China’s shortage of women, but he doesn’t know who owns it or what it was designed for.
Since making the discovery he has been working with Chinese news reporters to make contact with those named in the data breach.
“The subject might be a bit sensitive so I did not find it wise to approach young women over the internet to ask if they signed up for a dating app or something,” he said.
Gevers, a self-described ethical hacker, works with non-profit GDI Foundation who state their mission is “to defend the free and open internet by trying to make it safer.”
“We address security issues with responsible disclosure. We detect & analyse high risk “criminal” opportunities, share the risk & vulnerabilities with everybody,” their website states.
He said views himself to be a volunteer internet firefighter and claims the list, which is said to be no longer available after his discovery, included a girl as young as 15 years old and the youngest woman with ‘breedready’ status was 18.
“The average is a bit above 32y and the most aged woman with a BR1 (breedready) is 39,” he wrote.
He said the list includes women who are 95 years old.
Eighty-nine per cent of them are marked as single, 10 per cent are divorced and one per cent are widows, according to Gevers.
Most of the women ranked on the list live in Beijing.
“I’ve seen a lot of things online but this one must be the weirdest ones out there until so far,” Gevers wrote.
There was a shocked reaction to the disturbing revelations. “Holy hell!” one person said on Twitter. “Not creepy at all,” another responded sarcastically.
Some critics of the find were quick to point out that Gevers’ assumption that the list declared whether a women was ‘breedready’ could be a mistranslation.
A few observers noted that the Chinese character used could mean “gave birth already,” however the list only includes single, divorced or widowed women.
Gevers told Time: “To be honest I hope it was just poor English of the developer … but we simply do not know this for sure.”
While it is possible the Chinese government is trying to keep tabs on all women who can give birth to children, it could also be explained as dating app or website data.
Typically when a woman signs up to a dating app they are asked whether they would or would not want to have children.
Another observer suggested the data could be used by an online dating platform, child planning agency or feminine products marketing and ‘BR’ could stand for ‘child bearing age’.
However Gevers told News Corp there was evidence missing that would indicate it was dating app data.
“The database fields are confusing because a dating app should have more hobbies, interests, favourite activities, music, food etc,” he said.
“This looked more like a register where people live and their “status” base on their data (sic).”
Netherlands based Gevers, who has been ethical hacking since 1998, said GDI. Foundation has 35 members spread across the world and they work alongside local journalists to decode data.
He said he shared details of the Chinese data find on Twitter so it could be evaluated publicly and hopefully get some answers.
China is concerned for its population though; in late 2015 the government announced it would abolish the country’s one-child policy and allow families to have two children to “improve the balanced development of population”.
These restrictions could be even further relaxed as the government weathers growing concerns about an ageing population and a drop in birthrates.
It’s been forecast that the number of Chinese women aged 23-30 will decrease by 40 per cent in the next ten years, resulting in a huge drop to the child bearing age group.
According to CNN China’s total fertility rate was 1.6 children per woman in 2017.