Latest news, in-depth features and opinion on facial recognition technology, its development, application and concerns over its use.

Coronavirus outbreak tests China’s surveillance technology
On January 22, four days before the Lunar New Year, a village in southeastern China held a banquet. Some 3,000 people, or half the village’s population, showed up.  It was a blast. Then the villagers found out that one family among them had returned from the central city of Wuhan and brought with it a new strain of coronavirus that has killed at least 1,100 people worldwide since it was first reported in December. The banquet took place two days after the Chinese government declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency, and authorities at all levels were tracking and restricting the movements of people from Wuhan. The family slipped through all measures of screening and, according
Shanghai to launch mandatory face scans for drug buyers
Shanghai is rolling out a drug collection terminal equipped with facial recognition technology for medicine buyers in an effort to stem abuse. At the new terminals, pharmacists and buyers of controlled medicines – such as those containing sedatives and psychotropic substances – will be asked to verify their identities by scanning their faces at pharmacies or hospitals, local media reported on Wednesday. The system, which scans both pharmacists and patients, is designed to flag potential and high-risk abusers as well as prevent health care professionals from colluding with patients in obtaining drugs illegally.  The move is expected to prevent potential abusers from obtaining prescription med
Facial recognition is everywhere in China. People are worried about it 
In China, surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition technology are often hailed as important tools for improving security while offering convenience.  But as these devices become more pervasive, some Chinese people are questioning whether facial recognition comes with its own set of safety and privacy concerns.    According to a survey published on Thursday, 74% of respondents said they would like to have a choice between traditional identification methods (like keycards) and facial recognition technology.  More than 40% surveyed worried that their biometric data could be abused by irresponsible operators. Of that group, 80% feared their data might be leaked by entities with lax
Signing a mobile contract in China? Get ready for a facial scan
China has introduced a new rule that requires people to have their faces scanned when signing up for mobile phone services, as experts and even state media raised concerns that there were insufficient measures in place to safeguard privacy rights. Before the introduction of the new requirement on Sunday, which had been announced in September by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, people registering for mobile phone services had to provide only a copy of their identity cards. The ministry said the new measure would help to stem the resale of sim cards and protect people from unknowingly signing up for phone services if their identities were stolen. Many online services and so
Chinese residents grow nervous about facial data privacy
It took 20 minutes of arguing before the hotel in downtown Shenzhen, a tech hub in southern China, finally allowed Wang Qiyu to check in without taking a scan of his face. Wang, a software developer who returned to China two years ago after getting his doctorate in the US, said he felt harassed by the hotel.  “Airport, train stations, stores and hotels – almost every organization asks for facial data,” the 31-year-old said. “But no one tells me why they collect the data and how they protect it.” He is not alone: Chinese consumers, generally thought to be more accepting of trading privacy for security, are growing increasingly vocal about data privacy concerns as facial recognition becomes mo
Chinese scientists use AI to diagnose genetic disorders in babies
Chinese scientists say they've developed an AI-powered software to help screen newborns for genetic disorders through facial scans. Researchers from the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center and the Shanghai Pediatric Center said their new assistive diagnosis tool, which they described as the first of its kind, was designed to detect more than 100 disorders with distinctive facial features, according to a report by state-owned China News Service. They said their AI-enabled tool would be used for initial screening, helping to avoid missed or wrong diagnosis of newborns. Prominent facial features of children with Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CdLS), for example, include thin eyebrows that often me
Woman locked out of her digital life after nose job
A young woman in eastern China found her life turned upside down when plastic surgery altered her appearance so drastically that she was banned from online payment gateways and unable to sign in to work. The issues she faced underscore the extent to which daily life in urban China has come to rely on one’s face, with the country embracing cameras and facial recognition technology. The woman, who was identified only by the pseudonym Huan Huan, told her local television station in eastern China on the weekend that her troubles began a month before, after she had cosmetic surgery on her nose. The change in her appearance was too much for China’s widely-used facial recognition software, which wa
First day of school? Get ready for a face scan
Freshmen at a number of prestigious universities in China are getting enrolled through face scans, underscoring just how ubiquitous facial recognition technology is in the country. The universities are now extending their use of facial recognition to the enrollment process, after its initial adoption in applications such as security and recording students’ attendance. China’s elite Tsinghua University was among the first batch of large academic institutions to implement face scans to expedite the registration process this month, when the school welcomed more than 3,800 new undergraduate students at its campus in Beijing. The regular academic year in the country starts in September, though ma
Chinese AI tech tells police who you are by how you walk
You can tell a lot of things from the way someone walks. Just ask Chinese artificial intelligence start-up Watrix, which says that its software can identify a person from 165 feet away – even if they have covered their face or have their back to a camera. Police on the streets of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing have already run trials of the technology, said Huang Yongzhen, co-founder and chief executive of Watrix, in an interview with the South China Morning Post. “We are currently working with police on criminal investigations, such as tracking suspects from a robbery scene,” said Huang. Known as gait recognition, the technology works by analyzing thousands of metrics about a person’s wal
China’s ‘Orwellian surveillance state’ is still a work in progress
“You’re overstepping the line. Please get back,” warns a female voice from the loudspeaker on one of Shanghai’s new traffic lights. Pedestrians look left and right, see no cars and cross the road. The jaywalkers don’t realize that a set of cameras above the speakers have used facial recognition software to capture their faces. Soon enough, their photos appear on screens installed just under the lights. Nearby, a traffic warden armed with a whistle says that, very soon, jaywalkers will not just be publicly shamed but also fined. Their faces are expected to be compared to a national database, currently being developed. First launched in 2015 by China’s Ministry of Public Security, the system