Unlocking the smartphone with your face or automated passport controls at the airport using face recognition are nothing new for us. This technology is used in Switzerland and other countries to identify people, and is well accepted by the public for these specific use-cases, as its use brings us more convenience, efficiency and security.

In contrast to Europe, where the technology in broader use is only used very cautiously, in China it is used on a much larger scale and omnipresently accompanies the daily lives of the Chinese. In stores, bars, restaurants, train stations (see image below), cinemas, banks, events and hotels, the technology is used to identify people and as a means of payment, and is already replacing today’s cell phone payments.

In Alibaba’s FlyZoo Hotel, everything is automated with face recognition: whether they check in or out, enter the room, or obtain services, guests only have to have their face scanned.

Companies also use the technology for employee access control, logins, and also to pay at vending machines and in the canteen.

Image source: The Verge

In Zhengzhou, the police are equipped with special glasses that compare faces with the police database to identify suspects on the streets (see image above).

Is face recognition easy and safe? One use case was sharply criticized by the government newspaper “Legal Daily” and described as a high security risk and technology misuse.

Image source: South China Morning Post

In April 2019, face recognition cameras were installed in garbage and disposal bins in a residential neighborhood in Beijing (see image above). Depending on the weight and the correct classification of the garbage, points could be assigned to residents. But the newspaper pointed out that the company could not guarantee the security of personal data. In addition, this feature offered no added value to users at all. Instead of simply pressing a button to open the bucket in a second, they now had to wait several seconds until the face was correctly identified.

Title image source: Megvii FaceID

Yanqing Wyrsch is Head of Outpost, Shanghai. Please feel free to reach out to Yanqing at yanqing.wyrsch@swisscom.com

November 23, 2020