China Pushing Explicitly-Biased Facial Recognition Standards And Local Tech Companies Are Pitching In To Help

from the [clippy-bmp]-it-looks-like-you're-trying-to-commit-genocide dept

Facial recognition tech is plagued by bias, most of it unintentional. That's why it tends to perform more poorly when attempting to recognize minorities and women. Law enforcement doesn't tend to view these problems as bugs since it, too, operates with many of the same biases. But these are usually the byproduct of faulty inputs, which can be exacerbated by choices made by end users.

In China, the bias is the point. The Chinese government's persecution of its Uighur population has seen local tech companies tasked with providing surveillance tools that single out Uighur Muslims so the government can more efficiently control them.

Huawei is building a system that provides the government with "Uighur alarms" whenever a suspected Uighur passes in front of the government's millions of cameras. According to Huawei, this is still in the testing phase, which means nothing more than there's a plan for it to be put to use. Even if it's no more accurate at identifying Uighurs than it is at identifying criminals, it will likely be good enough to put to real-world use. Collateral damage to innocent residents isn't the sort of thing that slows surveillance rollouts in China.

China wants even more facial recognition power. And it has several partners willing to help it out, even if it means the tech will be used to oppress people, rather than protect people from things like crime and security threats.

China enlisted surveillance firms to help draw up standards for mass facial recognition systems, researchers said on Tuesday, warning that an unusually heavy emphasis on tracking characteristics such as ethnicity created wide scope for abuse.

The technical standards, published by surveillance research group IPVM, specify how data captured by facial recognition cameras across China should be segmented by dozens of characteristics - from eyebrow size to skin color and ethnicity.

"It's the first time we've ever seen public security camera networks that are tracking people by these sensitive categories explicitly at this scale," said the report's author, Charles Rollet.

New standards issued by the Chinese government mandate detection of certain traits, including ethnicity and skin color. These mandates don't just affect the cameras the government owns. They also require this tech be built into cameras operated by private businesses and residential structures.

And it's no longer limited to areas where the Uighur population is largest. It's intended to cover the entire country. The standards issued by the government don't specify which ethnicities the government is most interested in, but other documents seen by IVPM spell it out pretty explicitly.

The police standards above only mention "ethnicity" in the context of China's 56 official ethnic groups. Uyghurs are not explicitly mentioned by these standards, despite the fact that Chinese police often integrate Uyghur-detecting AI software in their security camera networks.

However, a Chinese facial recognition company, Bresee, which is owned by Uniview's parent company TransInfo, uploaded an explainer to its website that "EthicCode" is meant for tracking Uyghurs and Tibetans ('Zang' people in Chinese) specifically.

As is always the case when more details come out about the Chinese government's latest tech company aided affront to humanity, the tech companies named have stepped up to offer very carefully worded non-denials. Here are two US government blacklisted surveillance camera manufacturers (Dahua and Hikvision) not denying they will be contributing to the deployment of tech targeting certain ethnic groups.

Dahua described as "false" media reports that it had helped draft government standards for detecting individual ethnic groups.

"Dahua was not involved in creating the database section of the document that mentions ethnic groups," the company added in an emailed statement.

Asked about the IPVM report, a Hikvision spokesman said the company was "committed to upholding the highest standards and respect for human rights".

"As a manufacturer that does not oversee the operation of our products, we do ensure our cameras are designed to protect communities and property," he added.

Dahua: We didn't write the standards we will be following. Hikvision: Hey, we just make the stuff. Pretty much the upper extent of backbone allowed by an authoritarian government that isn't going to take "no" for an answer. That's why the mandates exist. And if these companies want to continue to exist, they'll do what they're told.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: china, facial recognition


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    GHB (profile), 21 Apr 2021 @ 2:02pm

    IJOP and BXAQ is already bad enough

    These are essentially putting surveillance cameras mounted on people's personal phones that they own, already in places that are private life. Just like amazon ring, data sent to law enforcers are unsecure (using http without the “s”).

    I can imagine what happens if a glitch occurs.

    Might as well mandate all homes to have the gov's cameras in all the rooms (including the bathroom).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      OldMugwump (profile), 21 Apr 2021 @ 8:35pm

      Re: mandate all homes to have the gov's cameras in all the rooms

      Hm. I recall a novel where they did that... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 Apr 2021 @ 12:29am

        Re: Re: mandate all homes to have the gov's cameras in all the r

        Funny how only 20 years ago people didn't consider Orwell a fucking prophet, innit?

        Come to think of it a number of older writers brought our current mass surveillance dystopia to the table.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          R.H. (profile), 22 Apr 2021 @ 4:36pm

          Re: Re: Re: mandate all homes to have the gov's cameras in all t

          I remember reading 1984 in high school (about 20 years ago) and no one, from the teacher to us students, seriously thought that anything in there was possible in reality. I guess we were wrong.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2021 @ 11:28pm

      Re: IJOP and BXAQ is already bad enough

      They're not actually far off. Consider that in places where the social credit system is implemented, most of the citizenry has already been convinced that it's purely advantageous - instead of completely creepy. The people for whom the system doesn't work are flagged out as undesirables or people who are already in the government's black books anyway, so they don't actually matter.

      China very much operates by the same rules that the US police force does: if you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide, and anyone who disagrees must be harshly dealt with.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 Apr 2021 @ 12:41am

        Re: Re: IJOP and BXAQ is already bad enough

        "Consider that in places where the social credit system is implemented, most of the citizenry has already been convinced that it's purely advantageous - instead of completely creepy."

        Because for 2000+ years it has been the rule rather than the exception that in China as long as you keep your head down and kowtow to the Emperor, Life is good.

        And why would they think otherwise? I'd advise a quick youtube trip for "New Rule: Losing to china" by Bill Maher.
        Chinese media certainly censors internal news but unlike the old USSR they have no need to censor outside news much. Just about any given episode of Fox news or CNN will convince the average chinese that the western barbarians have lost their grip on reality completely.

        "You need more democracy!" we scream from the lands of 'freedom'. And 1.3 out of 1.4 billion chinese look at the news from the west and say "Uh, we're good. Thanks but hell no".

        China caters to 95% of it's citizenry and treats the remaining 5% like trash. The US treats 5% of it's citizenry as kings and doesn't give a flying fuck about the rest. Except when voting time comes around at which point catering to about 50% of the nation becomes important for a short while.

        We could argue that the US is a poor example, being a failure of democracy...but then we'd also have to admit that China apparently does dictatorship very successfully.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Taska Louwenskie (profile), 1 May 2021 @ 10:19pm

    Their technology is much more mature than they claim

    Still remember the Hong Kong riot two years ago? Many youngsters wore masks when they hurled cocktail bombs or whatever at the police. Little did they know that facial recognition used not only their faces but other features of their body to determine who they are. So "facial" recognition is only part of the story.

    The technology not only focuses on faces but expressions and behavior in order to determine if someone poses a threat. So high tech is being used in fighting crime and terrorism.

    Other than fighting crime, facial recognition is being used all over the place in China, such as banking, office security, even residential security and retail security.

    To be frank, China has become a police state that we have long feared for, like the great firewall, the social credit system, covid19 tracking app, facial recognition... basically every movement. The problem is that most people over there are ok with it, willingly or unwillingly. But the bigger problem is that China is exporting their surveillance technology to other countries, the hardware, the ideology and their experiences.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.