For years, China has been trying to enforce rules to ensure that everyone using the internet does so with their real identities and not pseudonyms, a move by the government to crack down on fraud. Mobile phone users are now required to have their faces scanned when registering a new mobile service.
China is a world leader in the facial technology industry; however, its intensifying use across the country has sparked debate.
The country already uses facial recognition technology to survey its population; some organisations such as supermarkets, subway systems and airports already use facial recognition technology. Alibaba, one of the world’s largest e-commerce site situated in China gives customers the option to make payment using their face at its Hema supermarket chain. It also runs a hotel in Hangzhou where guests can scan their face with their smartphone before they can check-in.
What the new rules mean
Previously, when signing for a new mobile or mobile data contracts, people in China were required to present their national identity card to prove their identity and have their photos taken. However, they will now have their faces scanned to verify their genuine match for the ID they provided.
The US government says it is a move to combat fraud.
In 2017, internet users were required to verify their real identity before posting online. This regulation was framed by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to ensure that the government can identify every mobile phone user and oversee everyone and every activity.
A researcher on Chinese artificial intelligence, Jeffery Ding said that China is working towards creating safety in the cyber space and reducing internet fraud. By getting rid of anonymous phone numbers and internet accounts, fraud will be largely minimised. However, he said another motivation behind scanning every user’s face was to track the population.
“It’s connected to a very centralised push to try to keep tabs on everyone, or at least the ambition,” Ding said.
The Chinese media announced the regulations in September but did not make a big deal out of it. However, there was an uproar on the internet as hundreds of social media users expressed their concerns citing privacy abuse.
“People are being more and more strictly monitored. What are they (the government) afraid of?” said one user from Weibo microblogging website.
Many others complained that China already had too many data breaches regardless. “Before, thieves knew what your name was, in the future, they’ll know what you’ll look like,” said a user whose post garnered over a thousand likes. However, some others were indifferent about the move. They simply said it was an innovation in line with technological progress.
China heavily censors and policies the internet. It wilfully removes and blocks content it doesn’t want its citizens to see or talk about. Popular networking sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn and Skype are blocked in China. Gradually, facial recognition will become a part of daily life and commercial transactions in China. While this may minimise fraud and theft, the Chinese government could also exploit the data to track the population