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China's Huawei backtracks after filing for patent to identify Uyghur faces

January 14, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 47.5%. 2 min read.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - 2020/11/01: Chinese multinational technology company Huawei logo seen at their store. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Chinese technology company Huawei is backtracking on a patent application it filed for a facial recognition system intended to identify Uyghurs from other Chinese ethnicities.

(CNN Business)Chinese technology company Huawei is backtracking on a patent application it filed for a facial recognition system intended to identify Uyghurs from other Chinese ethnicities.

Filed in July 2018 by Huawei and the government-affiliated Chinese Academy of Sciences, the patent application said the "identification of pedestrian attributes is very important" in facial recognition technology.

A Huawei spokesperson said in a statement to CNN Business that the company would "amend" its patent, adding that the ethnicity identification feature should "never have become part of the application. "

"Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination," the spokesperson said.

The use of facial recognition technology in policing and domestic security is widespread across China but especially in the western region of Xinjiang, where up to 2 million people from Uyghur and other ethnic Muslim minorities have allegedly been put into internment camps, according to the US State Department.

Huawei wasn't the only company that IPVM said had filed this kind of patent.

According to IPVM, Chinese tech startup Megvii submitted a patent application in June 2019 for a system which mentioned an "ethnicity classification" that would include "Han, Uyghur, non-Han, non-Uyghur and unknown. "

In a statement to CNN Business, Megvii said that it would "withdraw" the 2019 patent application, which it said was "open to misunderstanding. " "Megvii has not developed and will not develop or sell racial or ethnic labelling solutions," the statement said.

IPVM also found another Chinese tech startup, Sensetime, mentioned in a patent application in July 2019 that it could identify people by ethnicity, specifically singling out "Uyghur" as a possibility.

In December, Alibaba (BABA) said that it would no longer try to identify faces by ethnicity after IPVM reported that a division of the company had shown clients how their facial recognition system could detect Uyghurs.

In the same month, the Washington Post alleged that Huawei had tested facial recognition software capable of sending automatic "Uyghur alarms" to government authorities if a member of the ethnic minority was detected by its camera systems.

In analysis written for its latest report, IPVM said that the inclusion of Uyghur tracking in the patent applications for top China tech companies showed "how prevalent this racist technology is" in the country.

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