In a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster’s trailer, a Chinese policeman dons a pair of futuristic facial recognition–equipped sunglasses. He scans each member of the crowd at Shanghai’s People’s Square subway station. Before long, he pinpoints a crook—whose disguise may have fooled humans, but not technology—and starts chasing him down.
This is from my WeChat feed… pic.twitter.com/0ddePmONFO
— OJ (@audiocomedian) May 27, 2019
The video is an advertisement for state-owned telecom giant China Mobile’s new 5G network. The voiceover in Mandarin at the end of the clip doesn’t endorse facial recognition outright, but it does boast that 5G is speedy enough to make “smart cities possible.”
People around the world are grappling with facial recognition. Earlier this month, it was officially banned in San Francisco. Congress recently held a hearing about the pitfalls of the technology. Meanwhile, a backlash broke out in the U.K. last week after a Welsh man complained that the authorities breached his privacy with facial recognition, prompting police to defend what they call a valuable crime-prevention tool.
All that pales in comparison with China’s usage of the technology. Critics have accused the Chinese government of using such technology in its suppression of the Uighur minority, with experts digging up copious amounts of evidence to back up those claims. There are also concerns that facial recognition will be abused nationwide. Cameras equipped with the technology have sprung up alongside most major Chinese city streets, and even in some public bathrooms.
Alarming as such widespread state surveillance might seem to many Westerners, much of the Chinese population has welcomed its increasing ubiquity. As author Jianan Qian wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “Many people in China seem to be happy about the physical security promised by the surveillance network. Our mind-set, long ago, was wired to see safety and freedom as an either-or choice.” (Read more from “This Ad Shows Just How Much Chinese Consumers Trust Facial Recognition Technology” HERE)