Using technology, China ramps up its ‘toilet revolution’

In this photo taken onMarch 21, 2017, a man tries out a facial recognition toilet paper dispenser at a toilet in the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing, China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Updated 03 April 2017
0

Using technology, China ramps up its ‘toilet revolution’

BEIJING: Fed up with the theft of toilet paper from public bathrooms, tourist authorities in China’s capital have begun using facial recognition technology to limit how much paper a person can take.
The unusual move — part of a “toilet revolution” — is another step in China’s vast upgrading of public facilities.
Bathrooms at tourist sites, notorious for their primitive conditions and nasty odors, are a special focus of the campaign, a response to a vast expansion in domestic travel and demands for better-quality facilities from a more affluent public.
“Today in China, people are highly enthusiastic about tourism, and we have entered a new era of public tourism,” said Zhan Dongmei, a researcher with the China Tourism Academy. “The expectation of the public for the toilet is becoming higher.”
At Beijing’s 600-year-old Temple of Heaven, administrators recognized the need to stock the public bathrooms with toilet paper, a requirement for obtaining a top rating from the National Tourism Authority. But they needed a means of preventing patrons from stripping them bare for personal use — hence the introduction of new technology that dispenses just one 60-centimeter (2-foot) section of paper every nine minutes following a face scan.
“People take away the paper mostly because they are worried they can’t find any when they want to use it the next time. But if we can provide it in every toilet, most people will not do it anymore,” Zhan said.
Launched two years ago, the revolution calls for at least 34,000 new public bathrooms to be constructed in Beijing and 23,000 renovated by the end of this year. Authorities are also encouraging the installation of Western-style sit-down commodes rather than the more common squat toilets. Around 25 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) has already been spent on the program, according to the National Tourism Administration.
The ultimate target, Zhan said, “is to have a sufficient amount of toilets which are clean and odorless and free to use.”
At Happy Valley, the largest amusement park in Beijing, around 4 million annual visitors rely on 18 bathrooms, each of which is assigned one or two cleaners who must make their rounds every 10 minutes on busy days.
“People come here to have fun, but if the toilets are disgusting, how can they have a good time here?” said Vice General Manager Li Xiangyang. “It is the least we should do to offer a clean and tidy environment for tourists to enjoy both the tour of the park and the experience of using our toilets.”
Going a step further, the financial hub of Shanghai even opened its first gender-neutral public toilet in November in order to boost convenience and efficiency.
“Women are stuck waiting in longer lines for stalls than men, and it is fair for men and women to wait in line together,” Shanghai resident Zhu Jingyi said after using the facility.
Zhan said the toilet revolution is about 90 percent complete, but warned that it has yet to be won.
“We can’t accept the situation that a lot of investments have been made to build toilets and they turn out to be unsanitary and poorly managed,” he said.


Reminder: Your smartphone is likely tracking your location

Updated 54 min 22 sec ago
0

Reminder: Your smartphone is likely tracking your location

  • Most apps now use location tracking, and not just for obvious purposes like maps and transport
  • A study by Yale University found that three quarters of Android apps contained trackers — usually containing advertising

PARIS: A new lawsuit accusing Google of tracking people’s locations against their will has served as a reminder that every movement of most smartphone users is being recorded, often without their knowledge.
The California man who filed the suit claims that the tech behemoth continued to track the whereabouts of Android smartphone users even after they turned off “location history.”
But the history of geolocation and the privacy issues it raises are as old as the mobile phone itself.
Before smartphones arrived more than a decade ago, it was still possible to use geolocation. Mobile phones constantly connect to local antenna towers, and by triangulating the signals the user can be found — as Jeff Goldblum illustrated in the 1996 movie “Independence Day.”
However smartphones brought about a far simpler way to track people: GPS.
After the release of the first iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2007, GPS — Global Positioning System using satellites — became prevalent, and it is now included on all smartphones.
Most apps now use location tracking, and not just for obvious purposes like maps and transport. It’s also used for dating, food delivery and gaming, such as Pokemon Go, which became hugely if briefly popular across the world in 2016.
As the popularity of apps using geolocations grows, so does their money-making potential.
For example, when tourists use their phone to explore, they can be targeted with advertising not just from the country they are in but also the city and even the street they are standing on.
A 2014 study by CNIL, the French government’s techonology consumer protection body, showed that between a quarter to a third of apps had access to the phone’s location.
By 2017, a study by Yale University found that three quarters of Android apps contained trackers — usually containing advertising.
The CNIL study also found that some apps tracked the phone’s location more than a million times over a three-month period — accessing the information about once per minute.
The new Google lawsuit is far from the first time privacy concerns have been raised over geolocation. In 2011 fellow tech giant Apple faced a lawsuit over location tracking on its ubiquitous iPhones and iPads.
And there are also national security concerns.
Last month, researchers found that the fitness app Polar had revealed sensitive data on military and intelligence personnel from 69 countries. The app later disabled the function.
Just months before another health app, Strava, was found to have showed potentially sensitive information about US and allied forces around the world.
But the problem includes apps that don’t even need to track the users’ location.
Some simple flashlight apps have been discovered to have been secretly sharing location information.