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Facial recognition backlash grows in China

Facial recognition backlash grows in China

Media and high-ranking officials in China are warning the public about the risks of unconstrained artificial intelligence and facial recognition systems, CNBC reports.

Viral face-swapping app Zao was pilloried by both state and private media for a lack of data privacy protections, as well as its potential to be used to spread disinformation. The app’s proliferation and criticism prompted the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to warn of the necessity to assess the security of new technologies and businesses, according to CNBC, and guard against fraud. The app’s developers responded that the app cannot be used to defraud facial recognition payment systems.

Chinese internet users recently complained about the use of facial recognition by the Alipay app even when biometric payment is turned off, citing privacy concerns.

CNBC compares the situation to that of peer-to-peer lending, which became popular in the country before significant losses of customer funds led to a government ban on online lending platforms. New draft laws specifically relating to biometric data were already reported to be under consideration by Chinese lawmakers earlier this year.

The central bank’s Director of Science and Technology Li Wei warned consumers recently that “A bank card may still be in a pocket, but a face is usually exposed, and recognition is very easy. Current technology can recognize your face from three kilometers away.”

Alipay has responded to concerns with an explanation of the 3D face recognition it uses for its biometric payment system.

The country’s education authority has also moved to limit and regulate facial recognition on school campuses, according to Chinanews.com.

An image of a Megvii facial recognition system being tested by a college recently went viral on Chinese internet platforms, spurring action from the government. Ministry of Education Department of Science and Technology Director Lei Chaozi said the deployment creates both data security and privacy concerns.

“When technology has gone too far and the legislation lags behind, we need a ‘third force’ to resolve the contradiction, which is moral ethics. Technological progress must be bound by morality,” Zhu Wei, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times, according to Chinanews.com.

“This backlash shows that the concept of data privacy is gaining ground in China, and increasingly users are less willing to trade privacy for convenience or entertainment,” World Economic Forum Head of Digital Trade Ziyang Fan told CNBC in an email. “We may expect to see more heightened awareness from both users and companies in China on data privacy in the future.”

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