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Big Brother Facial Recognition Tech is Taking Over China

In China a smile for the camera allows you to pay for goods, access your home or even use toilet paper.

Facial recognition is being increasingly used across China and in its latest implementation is coming to Beijing in the form of Alipay’s “Smile-to-Pay” and a face-scanning system that will secure all local public housing projects.

How Will Facial Recognition Be Used for Payment?

Alipay, developed by Alibaba, is a Chinese payment platform that uses “Smile-to-Pay” technology which allows users to pay vendors by simply scanning their face. Alipay has already launched in several branches of the popular bakery brand Wedome and will eventually be used by more than 300 shops throughout the nation’s capital.

Alipay’s “Smile-to-Pay” technology first launched in 2015, but has since undergone upgrades including developing a smaller version. The Chinese supermarket chain CP Lotus was the first company to partner with Alipay and use the technology.

An Alipay spokesperson explained how the system works: “The system extracts the minimum amount of facial feature data necessary to verify the payment and cannot be accessed by merchants.” If the system detects “risky” surroundings, it will ask users to confirm their identity using their phones, a spokesperson told TechNode.

When using the payment method for the first time, users must verify their identity using SMS. According to Alipay operator Ant Financial, the process can take up to 10 seconds.

How Will Facial Recognition Be Used for Public Housing?

Beijing is also using facial recognition-equipped “smart locks” to help combat forms of tenancy abuse (such as illegal subletting) in their public housing. According to The Beijing News, the system is expected to be used to secure all public housing projects in Beijing by June 2019, involving a total of 120,000 tenants.

Already installed in 47 housing projects in Beijing, the government has already collected up to 100,000 facial scans of tenants and family members. Beijing says the “smart locks” are intended to preserve public housing for those who are truly in need, as well as greatly improve the security of their housing communities.

The South China Morning Post also reported the system would help look out for elderly citizens who may be living alone. If the system has not seen a tenant go in and out of their home in a while, it can send an alert to officials to send a welfare check to the residence.

How Is Facial Recognition Currently Used in China?

Facial recognition is already widely used in China both for government and commercial purposes.

In November, Chinese police modified its online program called WeChat to allow users to scan their faces to have access to a variety of public services, instead of entering lengthy passwords. In September 2018 Tencent, a Chinese gaming company, introduced facial verification services to monitor unwarranted gaming by minors.

Many cities already use cameras equipped with facial recognition technology to apprehend jaywalkers. Perhaps the most innovative way that a particular Beijing park uses facial recognition is by equipping toilet paper dispensers with facial scanning technology to discourage people from using too much.

China is also currently testing out a “social credit ranking system” that relies in part on facial recognition software and scores citizens based on good or bad behavior. If a citizen jaywalks, smokes in prohibited zones, drives poorly or performs any number of activities deemed undesirable the person’s ranking is negatively affected.

Rewards or punishments are then handed out to citizens based on their ranking. Perks or rewards would include better interest rates, discounts on bills while punishments could include losing the ability to travel, having your internet throttled or being denied access to schools. China aims to fully launch the system by 2020.


Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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