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Approaches to displaying jaywalkers’ information differ by city. Some cities show part of the offenders’ ID numbers and names. (Picture: 时间视频 on Weibo)

Facial recognition in China shames jaywalking child, erupting debate

Facial recognition is commonplace in China, but concerns remain about children’s privacy

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Facial recognition is so commonplace in China that using the tech to automatically catch and shame jaywalkers is pretty common. Plenty of busy intersections in China have billboards displaying photos of people who’ve jaywalked before, with the cameras snapping their faces and matching them with police databases to figure out who they are.

But some were still shocked when they saw a billboard displaying the face of a child.

People in the city of Taiyuan, about 250 miles southwest of Beijing, noticed that one intersection equipped with a facial recognition system was displaying pictures of a minor after catching the kid jaywalking. One local media report says the pictures were shown without any facial parts blurred or covered.

“Technology not on the right track… Is publicly showing people’s pictures the big-character poster of the new age?” one user asked on Weibo, referring to a type of political poster that appeared during China’s Cultural Revolution to defame “class enemies.”

How Weibo became China’s most popular blogging platform

But the city’s traffic police didn’t see anything wrong. They responded to Chinese media by saying that children should be treated the same as adults, whose pictures are displayed on a public screen for up to two weeks.

While some netizens voiced opposition, many social media users agreed with the police. Many Weibo comments said children shouldn’t be any different when it comes to enforcing safety.

Approaches to displaying jaywalkers’ information differ by city. Some cities show part of the offenders’ ID numbers and names. (Picture: 时间视频 on Weibo)
“It’s good to help minors know about shame,” says one Weibo comment with more than 10,000 likes.
As of 2018, China has 169 million underage internet users, and authorities have been tightening regulations to protect them against internet addiction, “harmful information” and cyberbullying. In response, tech companies have been adding facial recognition to games to verify users’ identities and prevent kids from overindulging.
The internet protection regulation for minors holds internet companies accountable for illegally collecting minors’ personal information, and China's minor protection law states that the personal information of minors involved with criminal offenses should not be disclosed in media or online. However, neither of these regulations mentions circumstances involving public facial recognition systems.

For many Weibo users, though, children’s privacy isn’t as important as safety.

One user echoed the sentiments of many by asking, “Do car accidents care whether you’re underage?”

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