One summer day in 2018 in China’s eastern province of Henan, a man had just finished filling up his car’s tank when he whipped out his smartphone. Like just about anyone who needs to pay for something in China these days, he pulled up a mobile payment app to have his personal QR code scanned. But then this seemingly innocuous action sparked an explosion, killing four people.
That’s how the story goes, anyway. The tale circulated widely online in China two years ago, but there’s just one problem: it’s not true.
Authorities confirmed that an explosion did occur a few metres away from the gas station, but it was caused by a natural gas leakage rather than the use of a smartphone. While this and similar rumours have been repeatedly debunked, the idea that smartphone use at the gas pump can touch off an explosion continues to linger.
Just this month, the Beijing Emergency Management Bureau issued new rules banning the use of smartphones near fuel dispensers at gas stations. The notice specifically named the scanning of QR code as a “hidden safety risk”. Users are advised to go indoors for mobile payments.
Since then, gas stations in the Chinese capital have reportedly switched to other payment methods that don’t involve QR codes, such as direct debit inside the gas companies’ own apps. Several other cities have followed suit.
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