China to make AI deliver greater benefits to society

A teacher of Hefei Hongxing Road Primary School (international division) in Hefei, east China’s Anhui province, passes a turnstile in the school via facial recognition, Mar. 31. (Photo by Ge Chuanhong/People’s Daily Online)

Facial recognition technology has been applied in more and more scenarios, including payment, entering railway stations, and unlocking intelligent terminals.


Thanks to technological progress, facial recognition is deeply integrated into the fields of public services, urban governance and security. For example, extensively used in government services, facial recognition has saved the time needed for handling government affairs.


Local governments in China use road safety cameras to detect traffic violations by scanning people’s faces. The facial recognition technology is also applied to highly crowded places such as airports and shopping malls for the sake of security.


In the fight against COVID-19, thermometers supported by facial recognition have been widely applied, greatly improving the efficiency of body temperature measurement.


Besides, AI-related industries based on facial recognition are witnessing rapid growth, and creating opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.


According to statistics, China is now home to more than 10,000 facial recognition-related companies, with 1,161 enterprises registered in the first three quarters of this year.


The country’s facial recognition market size is expected to reach 10 billion yuan ($1.53 billion) by 2024.


However, some users worried about the rampant leakage and abuse of their information caused by facial recognition. As biometric information related to faces can be very unique, the wide application of facial recognition may lead to problems including excessive use of the technology, and lack of uniform standards and data security.


The China Consumers Association, the country’s consumer rights watchdog, said in a report that 10 out of 100 mobile apps that it reviewed were suspected of collecting excessive personal data about the users.


Such problems make it necessary to be more cautious about the storage, sharing and application of massive facial data.


Human face is key information in the era of big data due to its uniqueness and anti-counterfeiting performance, and the facial recognition technology enjoys broad prospects for development.


Therefore, China should approach relevant technologies with a rational attitude. It should not be afraid of adopting facial recognition, just as one must not give up eating for fear of choking on food, as a Chinese saying goes. Meanwhile, the country needs to specify rules, improve institutions, intensify regulation, and close loopholes such as personal information leakage in time.


According to a survey, people worrying about the security risks of facial recognition focus more on the opaqueness and uncertainty in the collection and use of information in some scenarios that are not clearly stipulated by the law. For example, many people have been concerned about whether the original facial information will be retained by the collector and how it will process such data.


For that matter, China needs to keep pace with the times to adjust laws and regulations, and clearly define the ownership of facial data and the right to use, manage and transact such data.


The country should also develop standards and regulatory rules commensurate with technological development in time so that the entire society can collect, use, and store facial data more rigorously. Only in this way can it effectively protect the rights and interests of individuals and promote the healthy development of related industries.


In fact, China has been making efforts to improve rules and address acute problems in facial recognition. It fully launched the development of national standards for facial recognition at the end of 2019.


In recent years, the country has stepped up efforts to protect personal information. China’s cyber security law, e-commerce law, civil code all include explicit provisions on the protection of personal information.


Currently, China is seeking public opinion on the draft version of a personal information protection law, which defines personal biometric features as sensitive personal information and intends to establish a series of personal information processing rules with the idea of seeking “informed consent” at the core.


Local governments are also actively making explorations in this regard. The revised draft of municipal property management regulations in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang province, stipulated that property service personnel should not force residents to use shared facilities and equipment through biometric methods such as fingerprints and facial recognition.


By taking holistic steps, ensuring refined governance, and closing loopholes in the abuse of biometric information in time, China can effectively avoid security risks and enable facial recognition to deliver greater benefits to society.


The digital economy is prospering and application scenarios of AI are constantly enriched. Only by building a reliable line of defense for facial recognition and realizing the safe application of new technologies can people feel more secure while enjoying the dividends of technologies.


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