An investigation by the New York Times and trade magazine IPVM revealed that Alibaba has marketed a facial recognition algorithm to identify people of Uyghur origin. The group acknowledged the facts, but explained that its technology was a “test” run by its subsidiary Alibaba Cloud.
The story seems unrealistic, but it is very true: the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, one of the most powerful multinational companies in the world, has created software and a facial recognition algorithm to identify people of Uyghur origin. These facts were revealed in a two-part investigation published on December 16 by the New York Times and video surveillance website IPVM.
Alibaba just acknowledged in a press release its subsidiary Alibaba Cloud’s involvement in the creation, development and production of these tools for monitoring the Uyghur population. The Uyghurs, a Muslim minority living mainly in northwest China’s Xinjiang province, have been persecuted and under constant surveillance by the Chinese government for years.
The fact that one of the largest Chinese groups is cooperating with Beijing in the repression of the Uyghurs is an indication of increasing pressure from the government on companies that are already very close to the government due to their structure.
Alibaba sells Uyghur control to customers
Mainly known as an e-commerce giant, Alibaba also offers many cloud-related services and facial recognition services. That’s why the group offered customers of its surveillance services to identify people of Uyghur origin. A study by IPVM and the New York Times explains that customers receive an alert whenever a face believed to be a Uyghur person is detected. And among those clients, reporters identified dozens of police departments across China, showing that their pursuit did not stop in Xinjiang, but spanned the entire country.
Developing such an algorithm would require a large number of photographs to train the AI to recognize certain physical features, the paper reports.
Failed to do IPVM” Find private companies that will use the minority recognition service offered by Alibaba “. However, the journalists were able to demonstrate that other Chinese companies specializing in surveillance use similar algorithms to recognize Uyghurs. Their research is summarized in the video below.
Alibaba ‘terrified’, other companies affected
” We never intended to use this technology to profile specific ethnic groups “Alibaba has commented on the initiative, which its subsidiary Alibaba Cloud considers to be the only fact – a clumsy way to differentiate itself. The group said He was horrified to learn that Alibaba Cloud was developing facial recognition technology “, and in its response to IPVM, this algorithm’s ” test “. ” None of our customers have used this technology, which we have removed from our product offerings “.
However, IPVM states in its article that “ The development of such an algorithm does not happen by chance. Alibaba targeted Uyghurs, not a harmless experiment. They offered racist software directly to their customers. The embarrassing facts of corporate communication will not change Alibaba also did not provide any evidence that it had a test program and did not publish a press release in Chinese, despite the fact that only its Chinese customers have access to the technology.
Alibaba is not the only Chinese group using advanced facial recognition algorithms. IPVM has already revealed in another joint investigation with the Washington Post that the tech giant Huawei has been working with Megvi, a company specializing in video surveillance. Uighur warning “.