from the look,-this-is-something-only-we-can-do dept
The Eleventh Commandment (paraphrased from the original Homer Simpson):
THOU SHALT NOT HORN IN ON THY [GOVERNMENT’S] RACKET
Lots of nations are surveillance states. Very few engage in the depth and breadth of surveillance China does. Whatever any other country does, China has already done, redone, and modded to abstraction. The government not only loves deploying facial recognition tech, but is working on adding things like racial recognition to keep an eye on pesky foreigners and unwanted minorities.
It’s one thing if the government does it. It’s apparently quite another if private companies try to get in on the Big Brothering.
Many Chinese provinces and cities have explicitly legislated against companies collecting facial recognition information from late last year to early this year, and it appears that a subsidiary of XPeng Motors has ignored those regulations.
An XPeng sales company in Shanghai was recently fined RMB 100,000 ($15,710) by local market regulators for illegally collecting facial recognition information, according to an administrative penalty decision included by data provider Tianyancha.
The irony of forbidding the use of private facial recognition tech is probably lost on the Chinese government. I mean, it doesn’t seem to appreciate any form of humor, even grimdark irony like fining a private company for stepping on its surveillance turf.
It may be unfair to single out China for this sort of thing. It happens everywhere. Countries where facial recognition tech has been deployed by governments also have laws in place that forbid the same sort of collection by private companies. In some US states, government use is legal but private use violates local laws. In most of the US, though, it’s still the tech Wild West, with both governments and private entities subject to few guidelines or regulation.
But you can’t applaud the Chinese government for taking a tough stance on surveillance tech use by private entities. It clearly finds nothing wrong with its pervasive, ever-expanding surveillance state, which makes its regulation of private use extremely hypocritical. And the fact that it works closely with local companies to expand its surveillance opportunities makes its double-standard especially pronounced.
Xpeng, for its part, claims this was all a mistake. It claims a subsidiary purchased the cameras from a third party and deployed them without verifying they complied with local laws. But that doesn’t explain how this oversight went unnoticed for nearly six months, resulting in the collection of nearly 450,000 facial images.
But this fact is undeniable: if these cameras had been operated by the government and trained on people doing nothing more than buying cars, it all would have been above-board. The Chinese government can’t possibly justify all the surveillance it engages in. It does it because it can. But the far more innocuous collection of information to analyze customer demographics is apparently where the Chinese government draws the line.