Sensetime-led consortium to set up standards for facial recognition tech

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A consortium of Chinese technology companies has banded together to establish standards for developing facial recognition technology, as concerns grow with the technology’s increased ubiquity.

Why it matters: Facial recognition has become part of everyday life in China, with applications in sectors as far-ranging as public security to retail.

  • Nevertheless, its use has sparked heated debate, with some arguing that the technology is being applied to scenarios for which it is unneeded.
  • Earlier this month, a university professor from China’s eastern Zheijiang province filed a lawsuit against a wildlife park over being forced to use its facial recognition system to access the facility.

Details: The working group was established on Nov. 20 and is made up of companies including social media and gaming giant Tencent, Alibaba-affiliate Ant Financial, smartphone maker Xiaomi, voice recognition firm iFlytek, and surveillance equipment manufacturer Dahua Technology, among others.

  • The group is led by Sensetime, the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence (AI) firm. The US placed the company on a trade blacklist last month over alleged complicity in human rights violations in China.
  • The consortium’s aims are to standardize the research and development of facial recognition technologies, ensure safety in its use, and promote “healthier” development of the industry, according to a Sensetime statement.
  • The group will also lead and participate in setting up international standards, the company said.
  • The move comes following concerns over biometric data theft and a lack of accuracy in properly identifying individuals.
  • Sensetime said data leaks come as a result of a lack of specifications for collection, storing, and processing facial data.

Context: Despite the convenience that facial recognition technologies bring, the fallout could be disastrous if facial data falls into the wrong hands.

  • For example, a password can be changed if it is compromised while physical features cannot be easily modified if facial data is stolen.
  • While a vast majority of commercial applications are opt-in, the Chinese government has increased its focus on using the technology in its vast surveillance apparatus.