China's facial recognition measures increasingly extend not only to shops and public spaces but also homes and now mobile phones.

Facial-recognition technology is spreading in China.
Facial-recognition technology is spreading in China. (Reuters)

China on Sunday put into effect new regulations that require Chinese telecom carriers to scan the faces of users registering new mobile phone services, a move the government says is aimed at cracking down on fraud.

The rules, first announced in September, mean millions more people will come under the purview of facial recognition technology in China.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) did not say which companies will provide the telecoms providers with these services but China is home to some of the world’s leaders in facial recognition software, including Megvii and SenseTime.

Widening facial technology use

China already has some of the leading technology with regards to facial recognition. 

Supermarkets, subway systems and airports already use facial recognition technology. Alibaba gives customers the option to pay using their face at its Hema supermarket chain and runs a hotel in its headquarters city of Hangzhou where guests can scan their face with their smartphones for advance check-in.

The metro systems of some major Chinese cities have announced they will use the technology, with government-owned newspaper China Daily saying Beijing will use it to “classify passengers” to allow for “different security check measures.”

In July, the Xinhua news agency said Beijing had, or was in the process of, installing facial recognition systems at the entrances of 59 public rental housing communities.

A report in The Guardian reported that the Chinese city of Chongqing was one of the most surveilled cities on earth with more than 2.58 million cameras for the cities more than 15 million residents. 

According to an analysis by Comparitech eight out of the top 10 most-surveilled cities in the world are in China. The explosion of cameras has resulted in people asking what the aim of such an extensive surveillance programme is. 

While surveillance technologies have encountered little public opposition, there has been some mostly anonymous debate on social media platforms like Weibo with some questioning what the aim of such a programme is. 

Some users argue that it is needed to combat fraud, like scam calls, but others have voiced concerns about its implications for personal data, privacy and ethics.

One rare case of opposition has involved a university lecturer, who sued a wildlife park in Hangzhou after it replaced its fingerprint-based entry system with one that used facial recognition technology.

There have also been calls for greater regulatory oversight.

The People’s Daily on Saturday called for an investigation, saying one of its reporters had found face data could be found for sale on the Internet, with a package of 5,000 faces costing just $1.42 (10 yuan).

Last week, China’s internet regulator announced new rules governing the use of deepfake technology, which uses AI to create hyper-realistic videos where a person appears to say or do something they did not.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies