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Cybersecurity

Three Chinese state-owned banks using lie detectors and customers don’t know it

Xinhua says lie detectors used to improve ‘marketing’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘security’ - but customers in the dark

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 December, 2015, 11:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:53pm

At least three of China’s large state-owned banks are using lie detectors without the knowledge of their customers, according to official government media.

The Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank were among a number of financial institutions that have been collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Sciences on implementing the latest polygraph technology in financial services to improve “marketing”, “efficiency” and “security”, Xinhua reported on Monday.

It said the lie detectors were used by the banks without informing their customers.

The banks used remote sensing technology to obtain and analyse the customer’s biometric data, such as facial expression, skin colour, body temperature, heart readings and voice patterns.

The lead scientist of the project told Xinhua that more than 10 packages of technical solutions had been developed for their clients and deployed in different environments.

“This is not acceptable,” said Zhang Houcan, professor of psychology with Beijing Normal University.

“The technology is not new, but I never know it can be used this way.”

“Are they serving customers or interrogating suspects?”

The project team, based in Chongqing, could not be reached for comment.

The commercial banks named in the report did not respond to inquiries made by the South China Morning Post.

Traditional polygraph machines required attaching wired sensors on the test subject’s body, and that would likely drew protest.

But the new detectors were hidden, and customers were not informed to their operation, according to the report.

A relaxed customer was the most “honest”. Even people with special training, such as secret service agents, could not cheat the machine if they were not on alert.

The results were very accurate. Even a millisecond twist on face could not escape the machine’s detection, according to the project leader, whose name was not given by Xinhua.

The banks were named at the end of the report as examples of the new technology’s effectiveness and popularity.

Zhang, a leading psychologist on the mainland, said similar technology had been available for decades, and its use had long been restricted in legal and law enforcement sectors.

But recent advancement in sensor and computer technology had significantly reduced the size and complexity of lie detectors, and they began to appear in areas where were not regarded possible before.

This could bring many problems, she said. For instance, the bank could use the technology to monitor a customer’s emotion to sell their financial products more effectively.

Shanghai-based lawyer Zhang Fujie, however, pointed out that using a lie detector was equivalent to taping a conversation without informing the customer, which could be sued as an infringement to privacy.

But he admitted that there were no laws or regulations to restrict the use of lie detectors on mainland China, and the bank could argue they used it for security purposes, such as verifying a customer’s identity.

In the United States, there is the Employee Polygraph Protection Act which banned most private employees from using lie detectors on workers.

But in a few circumstances, such as theft and embezzlement, polygraph examination were allowed under a standard procedure.

Some apps also claimed to allow users to conduct polygraph tests on smartphones.