SenseTime’s biometrics business grows during COVID-19 despite U.S. ban

SenseTime develops biometric identification system

Despite being included on the U.S. Entity List of blacklisted Chinese companies, SenseTime’s business has been flourishing in China, where local governments have widely implemented its biometric facial recognition technology to mitigate pandemic effects, writes BNN Bloomberg.

The Financial Times has also reported SenseTime has not had any issues raising funds or winning foreign contracts despite the Trump administration’s decision to include it on the U.S. Entity List.

In 2019, SenseTime saw a 147 percent revenue increase to 5 billion yuan (US$720 million) and its customer base increase by nearly 500 entities. Sales are allegedly estimated to grow by 80 percent with gross profit doubling, the publication writes after interviewing people familiar with the company’s financial situation.

“We see business demand for ways to mitigate the virus outbreak on the rise,” co-founder Xu Bing said in a phone interview with BNN Bloomberg. He and SenseTime did not provide revenue statements in writing.

SenseTime has been rumored to be planning Shanghai IPO at $10 billion valuation, and considering dual listing in Hong Kong and China.

To contain COVID-19, China has resorted to laws and technology beyond what the U.S. typically approves of such as installing cameras developed by SenseTime to monitor the city’s subway entrances. The sensors detect if people are wearing masks, take body temperature and reportedly identify people even when wearing masks.

Huawei, Tencent and ByteDance have also received support from the Chinese government following U.S. moves. China has committed to investing some $1.4 trillion in the local tech industry.

Privacy concerns related to facial recognition use in China are rare. Beijing has allowed its use by local governments, businesses and residential buildings.

SenseTime has so far partnered with 127 cities in China that have installed its facial recognition surveillance cameras. The facial recognition system for subways has been deployed in cities across central Zhengzhou and Xi’an to northeastern Harbin. When using the subway, people can pay with face scans, which makes it easy to identify them even if they are wearing masks.

“It’s data gravity that nobody can stop. China is pushing facial recognition across the nation during this pandemic,” Isaac Mao, an angel tech investor, told the publication. “In the U.S., there are roadblocks including civil society, privacy regulations and governance structure to push back on facial recognition and companies profiting from it are facing a backlash, but in China this is what’s missing.”

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