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Are we normalizing ourselves into a capitalist surveillance state?

Are we normalizing ourselves into a capitalist surveillance state?

There is a promoted article tease tucked into an MIT Technology Review story this week about how, in China, the perceived benefit of facial recognition is normalizing a brutal surveillance state.

Government officials, according to the main story, are pushing COVID-19 containment through the use of heat-mapping computer vision cameras bolted to public surfaces nationwide. They also promise the systems will catch every terrorist before they can act.

The tease links to a second story, this one about Chinese Uyghurs, Muslims that Beijing says are dangerous extremists.

Expatriate Uyghurs, according to this story feel “helpless and afraid” for families back home caught in Beijing’s AI surveillance network. Fortunately, the expats are taking advantage of networks abroad, including social media and telehealth services.

The comparison between the two situations is not intended to equate biometrically enabled deculturation with markets selling goods and services that commodify and potentially endanger personal data.

But both are about populations that have been sold on short-term, mostly transient comforts (domestic harmony and health in China, interconnectedness and more convenient healthcare in developed economies).

Coincidentally this week, Wired magazine also found itself pondering the normalization of facial recognition technology, in this case focusing squarely on Apple.

Is Apple normalizing biometrics by trading on its comparatively good security reputation? asks Carissa Véliz, an associate professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and the Institute for Ethics in AI.

Finger- and faceprints have found wide acceptance among buyers, yet some percentage of them would not accept either function if a car dealership wanted the same verification for a sale.

Véliz goes a step further, noting that iOS 15, Apple’s new mobile operating system, can read text and numbers in photos stored in its memory.

Apple can talk all day about how people can now automatically dial a number in the photograph of a delivery van, but that capability opens up new avenues for spying.

Like the other interesting conveniences promoted by facial recognition vendors and providers, it is not readily apparent to most people how much risk they accept when they embrace it. It creates a richer tapestry defining them and their lives.

That is what China, at least, is after.

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