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Hackers Have Some of the Best Ideas in War Against Coronavirus

Across Asia, hobbyists, web developers, and students are collaborating to track Covid-19 data and deliver the occasional messages of hope and cheer.

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Illustration: Xavier Lalanne-Tauzia for Bloomberg Businessweek

Lee Dong-hoon couldn’t take any more of the bloody masks. This was January, early in the coronavirus’s sweep through South Korea, and misinformation, including rumors about contaminated businesses and phony photos of masks supposedly from Covid-19 victims, seemed to be everywhere on social media. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was releasing detailed situation reports, but they were much tougher to decipher at a glance than a scary Facebook post. So Lee, an industrial engineering student at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, decided to create a website he hoped could act, in some small way, as a counterweight.

Within a day, the self-taught coder set up to track the spread of infections. He put the site online at 10 p.m. on Jan. 30 with $82 of his own money for web hosting. The following day, 2.4 million people read his Facebook post about it. Soon after, Lee enlisted 20 fellow students to help him upload the locations of infected people disclosed on government websites. The site has remained one of South Korea’s leading sources for accurate, up-to-the-minute tallies of confirmed infections and places where infected people have circulated. “I hope we have zero infections soon so that everyone’s life can get back to normal,” Lee says. “Then I will close my website.”