While the North American facial recognition technology market remains the world’s largest, China is developing new technologies at an unmatchable pace. Last year according to CB Insights, Chinese entities filed for 530 camera and video surveillance patents, while U.S. entities filed for only 96.

Megvii is thought to be the first facial recognition “unicorn.” Three Tsinghua graduates founded the company in 2011, and its main investors are said to include a Chinese state fund and Alibaba’s Ant Financial.

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Megvii’s open-source software platform, Face++, is considered the world’s largest. And because 300,000 developers use — and train — Megvii’s software, it’s also among the most accurate in the world. The company said that by as early as 2013, their software had already surpassed the recognition accuracy rate of the human eye.

Megvii began as a facial recognition startup, but now the company also develops body, object and text recognition software, and also sells its own facial recognition surveillance cameras.

Other Chinese companies in the facial recognition space include DeepGlint, SenseTime, and Yitu.

Facial technology in China is particularly prolific because it’s widely used in both private commercial products and public surveillance systems. Megvii not only supplies consumer products like Alibaba’s “Smile to Pay technology,” but also sells cameras and monitoring software to governments in over 32 Chinese cities.

Because facial recognition technology is used both in commercial and government arenas, some consumers say that they’re relatively open to its use, since they encounter potential benefits in everyday life.

Cassidy McDonald is a Beijing-based multimedia journalist who covers technology's effect on Chinese society. She tweets at @CMcD123.

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