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Danger Maps Backed by Alibaba Pinpoint Chinese Pollution

As pollution concerns rise in China, Liu Chunlei is boosting environmental awareness among the nation’s 564 million Internet users with help from the charitable arm of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (ALIBABZ).
Danger Maps, a website Liu started last year, allows people to look up sites such as toxic-waste treatment facilities, oil refineries and power plants. Liu has plotted about 6,000 pollution sources based on government data and user input on Baidu Map, China’s equivalent of Google Maps.
Enlarge image Danger Maps Backed by Alibaba Pinpoint Chinese Pollution
A man wears a mask as he walks down a street in Beijing. “When more people see the pollution, public opinion will add pressure to local authorities and prompt them to make changes,” said Mao Xiaoli, a co-organizer of China Mangrove Conservation Network. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Enlarge image Danger Maps Backed by Alibaba Pinpoint Chinese Pollution
People walk through Alibaba.com Ltd.'s headquarters in Hangzhou. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s billionaire founder, said in May he wanted to make China’s “water clearer, skies bluer, and food more secure.” Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg
“Real-estate agents and websites who want to boost transactions won’t tell you this kind of information,” said Liu, 35, who created Danger Maps after learning that the Shanghai apartment he bought in 2007 was near a landfill -- something he wasn’t informed of when negotiating the purchase.
Inspired by “crowd-mapping” efforts in Kenya and Japan, the site taps the knowledge of China’s masses to draw attention to environmental risks in a nation where public information is often scattered and incomplete. Now, Liu is expanding his site by letting users add information to maps with other themes such as missing people and child abuse.
“More Internet users are starting to understand how important information and data can be for sustainable social activism,” said Isaac Mao, director of the Social Brain Foundation, a social incubator for Chinese grassroots culture. “Visual sites are very helpful for the public to understand the big picture.”
Pollution has become a particularly delicate subject, displacing land disputes as the main cause of China’s 30,000 to 50,000 annual incidents of civil unrest, according to Chen Jiping, a member of the top political advisory body to China’s National People’s Congress.

Garbage Dumps

“It would be really interesting to see where incinerators and garbage dumps and such are placed in Chinese cities, and whether that will lead more communities to activism,” said Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “There are likely a lot of issues where there isn’t a set of necessary government data.”

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