According to a report published by the surveillance industry researcher IPVM, facial recognition technology has been developed by the Chinese technology giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd that is designed to specifically pick out members of China’s Uighur minority.
This report was released at a time when China has been accused by several human rights groups of forcefully placing more than one million Muslim Uighurs in labour camps. The rights groups have also identified companies suspected to be cooperating and helping the Chinese government to persecute the Muslim Uighurs.
Charges of forcing its Uighur Muslims into what Chinese government calls vocational training centres have been repeatedly denied by Beijing and has also said that there is a large threat of Islamist militantsin that region of Xinjiang province.
And yet, Chinese internet firms have adopted caution because of sensitivities even as such firms often engage in self-censorship to avoid being targeted by the Chinese government which is known to exert strict control overs online speech and which draft new rules to police livestreaming just last month.
Alibaba’s Cloud Shield content moderation service for websites contains the software capable of identifying Uighurs, said the US-based IPVM in the report published on Wednesday.
Cloud Shield is described by Alibaba as a system that “detects and recognizes text, pictures, videos, and voices containing pornography, politics, violent terrorism, advertisements, and spam, and provides verification, marking, custom configuration and other capabilities.”
According to an archived record of the technology, it is able to perform tasks such as “glasses inspection”, “smile detection”, irrespective of the subject being “ethnic” and, specifically, “Is it Uighur”.
IPVM researcher Charles Rollet said that if there is livestreaming of a video on a website signed up to Cloud Shield by a Uighur, the software has the ability to detect that the user is Uighur and consequently identify the video to be reviewed or removed.
Close to the time it published its report, the mention of Uighurs in the software disappeared, IPVM said, and added that it has been informed by Alibaba that the feature has only been used “in a testing environment”.
There were no comments on the issue by Alibaba.
Alibaba is listed on both the New York and Hong Kong stock exchanges. And according to data from researcher Canalys, the company is the largest cloud computing vendor in China and the fourth biggest in the world.
After reports that the computer chips manufactured by Intel Corp and Nvidia Corp were being put to use in the surveillance of Uighurs, lawmakers in the United States sent letters to American chip makers earlier this month.
(Adapted from TodayOnline.com)