Chinese Alibaba accused of developing facial recognition software to target Uyghurs
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has developed facial recognition software capable of identifying Uyghurs, a Muslim minority under high surveillance in Xinjiang (northwest), according to the daily New York Times. For a few years now, the authorities have initiated a policy of maximum security in this region after numerous deadly attacks committed against civilians and attributed to Uyghur separatists and Islamists.
Foreign experts accuse Beijing of interning at least one million Muslims in Xinjiang in “Re-education camps”. Beijing speaks of “vocational training centers” intended to distance the population from religious extremism. An Alibaba website explained how to use facial recognition software to detect Uyghurs or other ethnic minorities in photos and videos, reports the New York Times. The texts in question were removed from the web by the Chinese group.
But they had been consulted by the American research firm IPVM which transmitted them daily, says the newspaper. ” The mention of ethnic origin refers to a characteristic / function which was used in a test context, in order to see how far our technical capacities could go ”Alibaba said Thursday in a statement sent to AFP. “It has never been used outside of this test context”, said the company.
Growing Western pressure
Alibaba, the undisputed leader in online commerce in China, has diversified in recent years into the cloud, supermarkets and even the cinema. The group was founded by Jack Ma, one of the richest men in the country. Last week, the Chinese smartphone and telecom juggernaut Huawei had already been accused by the same IPVM firm of testing software to recognize Uyghurs. The private company denied these accusations, but failed to convince footballer Antoine Griezmann. The French striker of FC Barcelona broke his contract with the group, of which he had been the ambassador since 2017.
China faces increasing Western pressure over its security policy in Xinjiang, carried out in the name of anti-terrorism. Surveillance has been significantly reinforced in recent years: multiple identity checks, gates at the entrance to buildings, facial recognition cameras, confiscation of passports, DNA collections and police roadblocks. China has been hit in recent decades by several attacks attributed to Uyghur militants. The year 2014 was notably marked by a knife attack (31 dead) at Kunming station (southwest) and another with explosives (39 dead) against a market in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.