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18 Feb 2020


China: Facial recognition firms claim to be able to identify masked faces, raising privacy concerns

“China’s facial-recognition giant says it can crack masked faces during the coronavirus”, 18 February 2020

In unwelcome news for protesters everywhere, some Chinese artificial-intelligence companies are announcing their technology can now identify people even when they’re wearing face masks, as part of their efforts to adapt to the continuing coronavirus outbreak.

China’s SenseTime… said… that it was rolling out a facial-recognition product that incorporates thermal imaging cameras to help spot people with elevated temperatures, and send pop-up alerts to users of the software… it can also detect those who are not wearing masks in public places. Meanwhile, for building access control, its software can identify people even while they’re wearing masks with a “high accuracy,” said the release, as well as flag people who aren’t wearing the protective coverings and require them to wear a mask to gain access to a building…

SenseTime told Quartz its fever-detection system was in use in three public places. Meanwhile, as employees who have been working at home begin returning to offices, allowing employees wearing masks to be identified and enter will be vital for office buildings in coming weeks, it said…

Separately, a subsidiary of South Korean electronics giant LG said last week that it had collaborated with SenseTime to install a building access system at its Seoul offices that is able to identify employees in 0.3 seconds with 99% accuracy even if they are using medical masks, glasses, and make-up.

Beijing-based Hanwang Technology… also recently rolled out a feature that allows its door-access devices to recognize masked faces, the company said… The company said the tech could be used in surveillance devices to identify people wearing masks, as well as to notify authorities of those who are not wearing masks in public places. Beijing Youth Daily… said it is already being used in some office buildings in the capital. The company didn’t immediately respond to questions…

… Megvii… had to put out a statement… after it faced an online backlash in response to a Reuters report that it was borrowing money to develop its technology to identify people using masks. It said its technology was “misunderstood,” and that it had developed a system to identify foreheads to scan for temperatures only, which is being trialed in Beijing.

Many fear the coronavirus is giving authorities a chance to embed surveillance ever more deeply in their lives.

”Everyday, we are seeing more tech companies in China roll out fancy surveillance combinations, such as facial recognition + big data, and remote monitoring + real-time alerts in a bid to control the outbreak,” said one user of social media platform Weibo… “This is one example of how tech advancements sneak into our lives using an excuse like the virus… where is the boundary for people’s privacy?”

[Also referred to Apple]