Sharing economy

Chinese home sharing site Xiaozhu to roll out facial recognition-enabled smart locks in Chengdu pilot scheme

  • Home sharing site plans to introduce face scanning for check in at 80 per cent of its listings in southwest China’s Chengdu city
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 11:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 11:49am

Xiaozhu, China’s answer to Airbnb, plans to step up the introduction of facial recognition-enabled smart door locks to help verify the identities of tenants as part of a broader effort to improve safety and security in the country’s booming home sharing industry.

The six-year-old company, which runs one of China’s biggest home-sharing sites, said on Monday it plans to install facial recognition-enabled door locks in 80 per cent of its listings in southwest China’s Chengdu city, its second largest market by revenue, over the next year.

Apart from wider adoption of “face-scan check-in” to verify user’s identities, Xiaozhu announced other measures to upgrade safety and security, including equipping more apartments with smoke detectors, gas alarms and burglar alarms. It is also setting up a blacklist of tenants who misbehave during their stay at hosts’ homes.

“Years ago, what we worried about the most was that people didn’t want to share their homes with strangers. Now, home-sharing has become an industry so we need to do more to address the concerns of all parties involved,” said Kelvin Chen Chi, chief executive of the Beijing-based Xiaozhu.

The plan to improve safety and security is in line with the Chinese government’s tighter control over home-sharing, mainly for state security reasons. Zhejiang is the first province in the country that will require all home-sharing platforms and short-term rental firms to submit information on apartments for rent, including host and guest names, to the local public security authority, starting from January 1.

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About 78 million people, both hosts and guests, were involved in China’s home-sharing business in 2017, creating a market worth 14.5 billion yuan (US$2.1 billion), according to a the latest report from China’s State Information Centre, which forecasts that transactions in the industry will reach 50 billion yuan by 2020.

Without disclosing the amount of investment in the safety and security upgrade, Xiaozhu said it will make Chengdu, the location of its newly opened second headquarters, a pilot city to carry out the plan.

Xiaozhu’s efforts come two months after it secured US$300 million in a funding round led by e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma’s Yunfeng Capital, amid fierce competition from US giant Airbnb and local rival Tujia.

By equipping listed apartments with smart devices, the company aims to address safety concerns over short-term rentals. The boom in this new form of travel – staying in private apartments rather than traditional hotels – has posed a challenge to the Chinese authorities, which want to keep tabs on the flow of citizens. The operation of this Airbnb-style business has also faced complaints from neighbours over excess noise made by some tenants.

“A smart noise detector could help with that as it can automatically trigger an alarm when noise reaches a certain level, giving tenants a heads up that they need to keep it down,” said Chen.

Xiaozhu, which has over 500,000 active listings in China, said earlier that the technology behind its security system is provided by Alibaba Group.

Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.