CloudWalk has Zimbabwean’s face biometrics, but trust in voter roll still lacking
Step by slow step, China’s facial recognition firm CloudWalk Technology is getting nearer to a database of all Zimbabwean registered voters.
Like many nations, Zimbabwe has suffered decades of contentious and often violent voting. So, when, in 2018, CloudWalk suggested to leaders of the East African nation a partnership that could help make voting more trustworthy, they listened.
The pair signed their agreement, which calls for China to create the infrastructure for face biometrics in return for access to voters’ digitized faces.
Zimbabwean leaders get more than the promise of freer elections. The facial database can be used to spot and pick up political dissidents, too, according to Global Voices, a nonprofit community building organization. When some of those leaders visited China before signing the deal, they were amazed to see people paying for restaurant meals with their faces. That has yet to arrive in the nation.
Besides trying to invest its way into societies that once were financially tied to European nations and America, China is after more-accurate facial recognition.
It is no secret that people with darker skin are misidentified more often that people with European ancestry, especially with algorithms dating back to 2018. Getting better at facial recognition helps Chinese firms out-compete others that have been less diligent or successful with inclusive coding.
The credibility of the country’s biometric voter roll has been called into question, however, as anomalies were identified in the run-up to March by-elections, and manipulation of the record by changing the constituencies of over a hundred thousand voters alleged.
According to Global Voices, the partnership will “soon reach development of camera and network infrastructure.”
Some Zimbabwean voters doubt the political line that their biometric and demographic data is safely stored in a server. Targeted text messages from the nation’s ruling party have some wondering how the Zanu PF party could know anything about them.