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Huawei accused of hiding facial recognition tech that singles out Uyghurs

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China’s Huawei is a global and versatile tech giant, particularly known for its mobile and 5G network products and deployments, that are controversial among western governments for the company’s ties with its own country’s authorities.

But now a new dispute over its role is brewing closer to home, where the company is accused of, and denying, making facial recognition tech designed specifically to target one of China’s minorities, Uyghur Muslims, via something called “Uyghur alarms.”

Reports about serious violations of this group’s human rights have long persisted outside of China, and according to Bitter Winter, a magazine dedicated to religious and human rights, there is now evidence that the Uyghur-specific facial recognition program is in fact a reality.

Italian sociologist of religions Massimo Introvigne writes that Huawei – said to have teamed up with Chinese facial recognition specialists Megvii – attempted to hide the existence of this technology in order to avoid more bad publicity abroad and further sanctions, saying instead that they was merely conducting “testing” not described in any detail.

The claim that the two companies are guilty of actually producing this tech is based on what IPVM, billed as the world’s leading source for video surveillance information, said it found on Huawei’s Europe website – a document entitled, Huawei Video Cloud Solution and Megvii Dynamic Face Recognition Interoperability Test Report.

How and why the document was freely available on the site remains unknown at this time, but when IPVM reached out for comment, it was removed, Introvigne writes.

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What the paper revealed while it was up was that the “Uyghur alarm” test had been successful, and that Huawei and Megvii were examining new ways of implementing facial recognition based on ethnicity. All in all, it sounds like China is making strides in perfecting and coming up with more sophisticated versions of this type of mass surveillance tech, that is deployed worldwide, almost always to great concerns expressed by privacy and human rights advocates.

Introvigne, meanwhile, calls for Huawei and Megvii to be sanctioned for what he says is a “racists assault” targeting Uyghurs, and for US chipmaker Nvidia to stop selling its products to these two companies.

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