Alibaba Facial Recognition Tech Picks Out Uyghur Minorities

Chinese multinational technology company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd is offering Uyghur/ethnic minority recognition as a cloud service, according to a new report by surveillance industry researcher IPVM and The New York Times.

Users simply send photographs of people taken on their phones or pulled from surveillance videos to Alibaba's facial recognition service, then receive an alert if the subject is identified as a minority Uyghur from the western province of Xinjiang.

The Cloud Shield system offered by Alibaba Cloud “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.”

A record of the technology,, details how it can perform "glasses inspection" and "smile detection," and determine whether the subject is "ethnic" and, specifically, "Is it Uighur." 

Since its discovery by IVPM, the record has been archived. 

"Alibaba Cloud quickly deleted mentions of Uyghurs and minority detection on its website after Alibaba was contacted for comment," stated an IVPM spokesperson. 

"Alibaba Cloud then claimed, without evidence or explanation, that these features were only used "within a testing environment."

Alibaba released a statement declaring that it was “dismayed” that Alibaba Cloud had developed facial recognition software that allows individuals in video imagery to be tagged by ethnicity. 

The company claimed that the feature in the software was “trial technology” that was not intended for the use of customers.

An Alibaba spokeswoman told Reuters: “We have eliminated any ethnic tag in our product offering."

IVPM researchers said that they had identified over a dozen Chinese police departments that are using analytics to track Uyghurs. 

"Alibaba's offering of this explicitly racist technology to its vast Cloud clientele shows the repression of Uyghurs goes well beyond law enforcement," stated IVPM.

Earlier this month, IPVM together with The Washington Post revealed that PRC-based tech companies Huawei and Megvii had tested and validated "Uyghur alarms" in face recognition software that were designed to be used in video surveillance projects by Chinese police.

News of Alibaba Cloud's ethnic-minority-flagging facial recognition technology follows IPVM's discovery a year ago that China's largest video surveillance manufacturer Hikvision promoted a Uyghur-detecting AI camera.

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