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Briefing: Shenzhen police add facial recognition to WeChat services
What happened: Shenzhen police have added an “upgrade” to their online WeChat services that allows Chinese users to scan their faces rather than enter passwords in order to log in. The process isn’t necessarily shorter – it takes an estimated 40 seconds to record and upload a short video of one’s face, and 30 seconds to log in each time afterwards. But it does add novelty to the experience, which previously required Chinese users to upload photos of their national ID cards. In addition, it marks a new step in the increasing integration between government, citizens’ data, and private tech companies that’s taking place across the country.
Why it’s important: Shenzhen, along with other cities, has previously used facial recognition at certain street intersections in order to identify and fine jaywalkers. Such systems might one day play a part in larger plans for a nationwide social credit system by 2020 that would incentivize lawful behavior and punish rule-breakers. While the facial recognition feature on Shenzhen police’s official WeChat account seems more gimmicky than useful, it reflects how biometric data has become increasingly ubiquitous in Chinese law enforcement. In addition, it’s one of the few cases where such information is being solicited from willing users rather than implemented as a mandatory safety measure.