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Alibaba's Facial Recognition Technology Specifically Capable Of Spotting Uighurs, Report Claims

Alibaba's Facial Recognition Technology Specifically Capable Of Spotting Uighurs, Report Claims

Chinese tech behemoth Alibaba Group Holdings Inc’s (NYSE: BABA) facial recognition software can track the ethnic Uighur minority group in China. The claim is based on a report by surveillance analysis firm IPVM in collaboration with The New York Times.

What Happened: IPVM’s report quoted extracts from Alibaba’s Cloud Shield API guide describing the facial recognition software’s surveillance capabilities. The earlier version of API guides, last updated in May 2019, contained specific mentions of the Uighur minority and a guide to using the recognition tool for synchronous and asynchronous detection.

The New York Times report on the subject further claimed that the face recognition software was codified to keep track of digital content and scan specific facial attributes. China uses other modes like a wider surveillance dragnet and genetic testing to monitor the minority group.

The Times quoted a statement from an Alibaba cloud spokesperson, who said that “the ethnicity mention refers to a feature/function that was used within a testing environment during an exploration of our technical capability” and that it was not deployed “outside the testing environment.”

Why Does It Matter: Since the news about camps holding the Uighur community broke out, Chinese companies suspected of being an accomplice are being singled out, according to Reuters.

Both the IPVM and New York Times reports claim that on reaching out to Alibaba for a response, the tech company edited portions of its website to remove Uighur and minority faces’ references.

An archived record of the technology shows it can detect glasses inspection”, “smile detection,” whether the subject is “ethnic,” and, specifically, “Is it Uighur,” Reuters notes.

In June this year, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT), Amazon Inc (NASDAQ: AMZN), and IBM Corporation (NYSE: IBM) voluntarily opted not to sell facial recognition software to the U.S. police force. At the time, Microsoft President Brad Smith expressed the need for a humane national law that governs the use of this technology.

Price Action: BABA stock closed 2.66% higher at $261.89 on Wednesday.


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