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China lead in global facial recognition surveillance market examined as rights concerns mount

China lead in global facial recognition surveillance market examined as rights concerns mount

Biometric facial recognition companies from China are gaining an advantage from having the largest home market and being willing to work with customers competitors may not be, and they have used that to take the lead in the global market, according to the Financial Times.

Facial recognition technology supplied by Chinese vendors is being tested or used by at least 52 governments around the world, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the domestic market in China made up nearly half of the global business in 2018, according to IHS Markit, FT reports.

“There are protests around the world from Lebanon to Chile and Iraq, and a lot of these governments, whether it’s liberal democracies or more autocratic, are in tenuous positions,” Carnegie fellow Steven Feldstein told FT. “Now, there is technology available that allows them to fight back against political mobilisation.”

Huawei technology for surveillance, including facial recognition, has been deployed in roughly 230 cities around the world, having invested more heavily in the developing world than other global telecom giants. Huawei and other companies are working to meet the distinct needs of these underserved markets, according to one expert interviewed by FT.

“I would beware of the idea that Africa is a blank slate, where the Chinese arrive bringing their oppressive ways,” says Iginio Gagliardone, author of the book China, Africa, and the Future of the Internet. “Companies are spinning their products to fit the political demands of African elites.”

The domestic market for facial recognition is also continuing to grow rapidly, but pushback seems to be mounting, with a recent survey showing roughly 80 percent of Chinese people are anxious about the security of data held by facial recognition companies.

The article notes that NEC now supplies facial recognition in 14 countries, and Feldstein points out that companies from Israel and Russia are also actively pursuing business in the Caucasus and Central Asia, which regions tend to be underreported.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute meanwhile is expanding its Mapping China’s Tech Giants project to cover more AI and surveillance applications, China Digital Times notes. The project now tracks 23 entities with more than 26,000 data points.

CDT also notes a number of other recent market forecasts and reports that indicate continued growth for the technology, as well as growing concern among Chinese citizens, the international research community, and other stakeholder groups about the spread of facial recognition and other surveillance technologies, and the conditions of their use.

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