Universal Beijing to use facial recognition throughout theme park as CloudWalk VP urges privacy balance

Biometric facial recognition will be used throughout the new Universal Beijing theme park under a strategic partnership with Alibaba, Universal Parks & Resorts President of Global Business Development Michael Silver told an audience at CNBC’s East West Tech. At the same event, CloudWalk Vice President Candy Wu warned that getting facial recognition deployments right will be a balancing act with data privacy concerns increasing.

“Privacy is one of the major, very sensitive issues nowadays given that the data is increasing very rapidly,” Wu said during a panel discussion.

South China Morning Post reported earlier this year that CloudWalk has been used by Chinese police in the arrest of more than 10,000 suspected criminals over the past four years.

“We don’t have a perfect solution nowadays … I think it’s a kind of balance,” the CloudWalk executive continued, and said that both governments and businesses need to consider data protection and public safety issues.

China Everbright Limited Investment Director Bryan Bachner says that as China moves from an export-focussed economy to one driven by consumers, technologies like AI and biometric identification represent an opportunity for investors.

An example of biometric applications in this consumer-led economy might be Universal Beijing, where facial recognition will be used “for everything we do in the park,” according to Silver, including park admission, express access, hotel check-in and room access, and payments.

Universal has already developed a system in which a wearable device acts as a mobile cue, alerting vacationers when it is their turn for a ride, as well as providing photo storage, locker access, and other functions. Silver describes facial recognition as the logical next step in this progression, and points out that theme parks represent an ideal location for rolling out some kinds of new technology, as they are geo-fenced.

The partnership with Alibaba may also enable mobile food ordering and other innovative park experiences.

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