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Chinese residents worry about rise of facial recognition

A survey by a Beijing research institute indicates growing pushback against facial recognition in China.

Some 74% of respondents said they wanted the option to be able to use traditional ID methods over the tech to verify their identity.

Worries about the biometric data being hacked or otherwise leaked was the main concern cited by the 6,152 respondents.

Facial recognitions systems are being rolled out in stations, schools, and shopping centres across the country.

The survey, first reported in the West by The Financial Times, was released on Thursday by the Nandu Personal Information Protection Research Centre.

It has been described as being one of the first major studies of its kind into public opinion on the subject in mainland China.

Some 80% of respondents said they were concerned that facial recognition system operators had lax security measures.

Separate research suggests that they have good reason to be concerned.

China was ranked the worst of 50 surveyed countries in a study looking at how extensively and invasively biometric ID and surveillance systems are being deployed. The work was carried out by the cybersecurity firm Comparitech.

It said China had no "specific law to protect citizens' biometrics" and highlighted a "lack of safeguards for employees in the workplace".

Surveillance concerns

Nandu's survey was carried out via the internet between October and November.

In its sample, 57% of respondents voiced concern about their movements being tracked.

In addition, 84% of people said they wanted to be able to review the data that facial recognition systems had collected on them and to be able to request that it should be deleted.

The majority said they wanted an option to be able to use ID cards, driving licenses and/or passports as an alternative. But the survey also suggested that between 60 to 70% of Chinese residents believed facial recognition made public places safer.

Hard to avoid

China has more facial recognition cameras than any other country and they are often hard to avoid.

Earlier this week, local reports said that Zhengzhou, the capital of the northeastern Henan province, had become the first Chinese city to roll the tech out across all its subway train stations.

Commuters can use the technology to automatically authorise payments instead of scanning a QR code on their phones. For now, it is a voluntary option, said the China Daily.

Earlier this month, university professor Guo Bing announced he was suing Hangzhou Safari Park for enforcing facial recognition.

Prof Guo, a season ticket holder at the park, had used his fingerprint to enter for years, but was no longer able to do so.

The case was covered in the government-owned media, indicating that the Chinese Communist Party is willing for the private use of the technology to be discussed and debated by the public.

But the state continues to make some uses of the tech mandatory.

At the start of the month, a new regulation came into force that requires mobile phone subscribers to have their faces scanned when they sign a new contract with a provider.

The authorities say the move is designed to prevent the resale of Sim cards to help combat fraud.

But country-watchers have suggested it may also be used to help the police and other officials keep track of the population.

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