Chinese facial recognition partnerships with African governments concern pundits

Exports of artificial intelligence and surveillance technology, including facial biometrics, from China to Africa is drawing concern from pundits, Mind Matters reports.

The Diplomat reported earlier this year that African Union officials accused China in early 2018 of hacking into computers at its headquarters constantly for five years. The headquarters was funded by China and built by a Chinese state-owned company, according to the report.

The government of Zimbabwe signed a strategic cooperation agreement with CloudWalk last year to install a massive surveillance network with facial recognition. The supply of AI and facial recognition by Chinese companies to African governments is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, according to Mind Matters. Domestically China’s facial recognition-enabled surveillance networks continue to expand, but several of the companies involved could be facing sanctions by the U.S. amid a dispute which ostensibly includes both trade relations and human rights concerns.

Mind Matters refers to a Freedom House report noting the value of racial diversity in training data to facial recognition algorithms. Freedom House quotes a projection that Chinese companies will hold a 44.59 percent share of the global market for facial recognition devices by 2023, though without making the hardware-software distinction.

The report also notes that supporters of Chinese investment in Africa say the country has expertise on development issues and raising living standards not necessarily offered by Western nations.

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