Chinese tech company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd offered face recognition software to clients who recognize a Uighur face, according to a report.
U.S.-based research industry research firm IVPM said Thursday it had discovered the discovery technology in Alibaba’s Cloud Shield service, which offers content modeling for websites.
The technology could be used to identify videos filmed and uploaded by an Uighur person, identifying them for authorities to respond to or download.
According to IVPM research, Chinese website Alibaba showed clients – the websites that could buy Alibaba software – how they could use the tech feature, which was built into the the cloud service, to identify indigenous minorities. It included step-by-step instructions and focused specifically on finding Uighurs.
IVPM said: “Chinese consumers can only send images of people, whether from phones or surveillance videos, to the service, and if Alibaba suspects Uighur, it will flag the person.”
In the past few years China has made strenuous efforts to control Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region. Analysts have noted that programs include mass crisis in camps, extensive technological and humanitarian research, emergency labor programs, forced female sterilization and ideological “re-education”. China denies all allegations and says the camps are vocational training centers necessary to counter religious terrorism.
Earlier this week the international criminal court called for more evidence of Uighur’s persecution, having previously said it could not investigate claims against crimes against humanity and racism because China – which was not a signatory to the court – was outside its sovereignty.
Technology has become increasingly critical in authorities’ efforts against Uighurs, and recent leaks have shown how databases and specialized programs have been used to identify people for holding, focusing on features inclusion of young people, “general unreliability”, or belonging to sisters abroad.
Alibaba is considered to be the largest cloud computing vendor in China and the fourth largest in the world. The service was not mentioned on Alibaba Cloud websites outside China. Thursday’s revelations appear to be putting him under international pressure along with other major corporate bodies that are increasingly being called upon to account for involvement in trade linked to China’s persecution of Uighurs, to specialized in clothing technology and production.
This is not the first time the use of AI to track Chinese ethnic minorities has been revealed. IVPM said identification analysis was used by more than 12 police departments to track Uighurs, and was part of the government’s face-to-face identification guidelines.
The three major manufacturers were found to be offering tracking software, including HIK Vision, which promoted a “Uighur detection” camera last year, and Huawei was also found to be working with Megvii to confirm “Uighur warnings”.
IVPM said all identified companies had deleted the evidence from the internet once they were contacted for comments.
The Guardian has contacted Alibaba for comments. The company has told other media that ethnicity refers to a “feature / function used in a test environment during a study of our technical capability” that has never been used outside of an environment test. IPVM stated that testing of the feature was not mentioned anywhere in the literature prior to its download.