One day, self-driving cars and drones could be responsible for delivering packages to your door. And in China, it could become easier than ever for the machines to find people thanks to unique personal postcodes.

China is developing “Personal Address ID” codes, which will be a unique five- or six-character code that links to a person’s address, the Development and Research Center of the State Post Bureau announced. The new codes could be ready as early as next year, according to Beijing Youth Daily, the official newspaper of Beijing’s Communist Youth League.

The State Post Bureau refuted earlier media reports that said the new codes would replace China’s traditional postcode system.

A delivery man in Beijing, November 2018. (Picture: Reuters)

Part of the push for the new codes comes from the fact that they’re easier for machines to interpret, according to Beijing Youth Daily. The digits can also be represented by QR codes, a popular way of transmitting information in China. The ease of use means it could cut costs for delivery companies, whose customers are increasingly turning to ecommerce.

China generates 180 million packages a day, the bureau said in a seminar in July. The Beijing Youth Daily cited experts saying the codes could help reduce delivery personnel by 41% and delivery costs by 44%. It will also provide more accurate location data to delivery drones and self-driving delivery cars, helping to speed up automation in the delivery industry.

Automation is becoming increasingly important to China, a country faced with an aging population that’s now facing its lowest birth rate since 1949. Industrial companies have been investing heavily in automation, allowing some to replace jobs for up to 40% of their workers.

For delivery companies, though, automated vehicle and drone deliveries remain a dream. The technology has been difficult to implement, with pinpointing precise locations for delivery being one of the technical challenges.

As convenient as it seems, the new scheme also has some worried about privacy. The State Post Bureau said at the July seminar that the Personal Address ID database is a “public information platform” because “data resources are national resources.” Beijing Youth Daily also reported that the system would be able to be shared among delivery companies.

Chinese netizens weren’t thrilled about the news. People expressing concern on Weibo cited personal data leaks, which are common in the country.

“Why do I feel like this Personal Address ID, just like a personal phone number, tends to leak personal privacy more accurately?” asked one Weibo user.

“There is serious hidden peril for personal information leaks,” another Weibo user commented. “The personal ID will provide great convenience if a person wants to harm someone.”