Commentary

What We Can Learn from China's Use of Facial Recognition Tech

The city of San Francisco made headlines when it banned the use of facial recognition technology by police and other government departments. Meanwhile, China has been pushing to leverage this technology to a more robust level.

To explain how facial recognition technology works in a nutshell: Think of a topographic map being created for your face. The technology measures the distance between your eyes, the angle of your jawline, how high your cheekbones are, etc. All these landmarks, valleys, and peaks are being used to map your face. 

In China, many major cities have extensive surveillance camera systems. Once these cameras are equipped with facial recognition technology, citizens’ faces, ages, genders, whom they friend, and where they shopped can all be mapped together. While the large population (over 1.3 billion) and centralized identity database might make adopting and applying facial recognition technology easier than in the U.S. or Europe, China is still at an early stage of testing and is experimenting with different applications of the technology, while striving to be a global leader in the field. 

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Marketers Take Note

In addition to the application on the state level, some companies have already taken this to the next step.

For example, In 2018, Alipay started testing a system called “Smile To Pay” at KFCs in the company’s hometown, Hangzhou. This product allows customers to complete their payments by smiling in front of the restaurant’s self-service kiosks. JD.com, another leader in the e-commerce space, has been embracing facial recognition and voice scan technologies to monitor swine wellbeing and track individual pigs to manage the swine shortage in China.

The Big Debate

Facial recognition is an AI technology. A massive amount of faces are required to train the algorithm. The lack of data, which can lead to inaccuracy, is one of the main concerns people have with the technology. 

In addition, facial recognition technology isn’t just about verifying one’s biometric identification, but also can be used to create someone’s psychometric profile. Imagine your subtle facial expressions are being recorded and logged to match with what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, and doing -- more than Cambridge Analytica could have ever dreamed of.

Deploying facial recognition technology is undoubtedly another double-edged sword. Using it in payment or authorization effectively frees people from their smart phone dependence. Using it in advertising, people can be served with super-relevant ads; but who wants to admit that someone else might know us better than ourselves? Use by law enforcement can help people find missing children and identify criminals, but no one wants to live in a police state.

1 comment about "What We Can Learn from China's Use of Facial Recognition Tech".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 26, 2019 at 1:50 p.m.

    You can learn how fascism works to worst and lose all your rights as a living being. 1984. 

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