Facial recognition payment stirs up debate about online privacy
Data collection on users is rife in China, but people still have their limits
Chinese internet users never had much privacy online.
Now newer technologies like facial recognition have made users more sensitive about what companies are doing with their personal information.
On Q&A site Zhihu, users are discussing one Alipay user’s complaint about how the mobile payments giant uses its facial recognition tech.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, whose affiliate Ant Financial operates Alipay.)
Screenshots purportedly show that after the machine scanned the user’s face, it confirms that facial recognition payments were off, but only after pulling up the user’s account.
Though the post sparked strong reactions online, the user seems to have misinterpreted what turning off facial recognition payments actually does. Since the person chose to verify the account using a personal photo, Alipay can now recognize the account from just the person’s face.
In response to questions about the post, a company spokesperson told Abacus, “Alipay only collects user information after explicit user consent and on an opt-in basis in order to provide relevant inclusive financial services.”
This is in line with what the company said on Zhihu. In this case, though, it looks like verifying an account with a photo means opting in to facial recognition permanently.
Still, Alipay said there are “several inconsistencies,” such as the screenshots showing the user’s full name. Part of the name would be x-ed out, according to a representative. The company didn’t dispute that facial recognition could still be used in this instance to verify the account.
However accurate the user’s claims, it certainly started a discussion. The page has drawn more than 629,000 views and 185 answers. Many users wrote about their distrust of Chinese tech companies and how they use private information.
Every day, Chinese internet users deal with similar situations. It’s not just maps and flight apps, either. Much of your smartphone could be compromised.
Even though the government data mines its citizens on a large scale, some users argue that it’s more acceptable for the government to do it than private companies.
The user added, “But people are not willing to let oligopolistic companies collect and use their private information, because they know that when business institutions abuse their privacy, there’s nothing they can do.”