December 17, 2020
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Technology giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd has facial recognition technology which can specifically pick out members of China’s Uighur minority, surveillance industry researcher IPVM said in a report.
The report comes as human rights groups accuse China of forcing over 1 million Muslim Uighurs into labour camps, and call out firms suspected of complicity.
China has repeatedly denied forcing anyone into what it has called vocational training centres, and has also said the region of Xinjiang is under threat from Islamist militants.
Still, sensitivities have prompted caution among Chinese internet firms which often self-censor to avoid running afoul of a government which strictly controls online speech, and which last month published draft rules to police livestreaming.
U.S.-based IPVM in a report published on Wednesday said software capable of identifying Uighurs appears in Alibaba’s Cloud Shield content moderation service for websites.
Alibaba describes Cloud Shield as a system that “detects and recognizes text, pictures, videos, and voices containing pornography, politics, violent terrorism, advertisements, and spam, and provides verification, marking, custom configuration and other capabilities.”
An archived record of the technology https://perma.cc/9ZUV-UD2F shows it can perform such tasks as “glasses inspection”, “smile detection”, whether the subject is “ethnic” and, specifically, “Is it Uighur”.
Consequently, if a Uighur livestreams a video on a website signed up to Cloud Shield, the software can detect that the user is Uighur and flag the video for review or removal, IPVM researcher Charles Rollet told Reuters.
IPVM said mention of Uighurs in the software disappeared near the time it published its report, and that Alibaba told it the feature has only been used “in a testing environment”. Alibaba did not provide a comment following a Reuters’ request.
Alibaba is listed on both the New York and Hong Kong stock exchanges. It is the biggest cloud computing vendor in China and the fourth worldwide, showed data from researcher Canalys.
Earlier this month, U.S. lawmakers sent letters to Intel Corp and Nvidia Corp following reports of their computer chips being used in the surveillance of Uighurs.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Christopher Cushing)
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