Alibaba facial recognition tech specifically picks out China’s Muslim Uighur minority

Alibaba facial recognition tech specifically picks out China’s Muslim Uighur minority
A logo of Alibaba Group is seen during the World Internet Conference (WIC) in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, on Nov. 23, 2020. (REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo)
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Updated 18 December 2020

Alibaba facial recognition tech specifically picks out China’s Muslim Uighur minority

Alibaba facial recognition tech specifically picks out China’s Muslim Uighur minority
  • Alibaba itself said it was “dismayed” a unit developed software which can tag ethnicity in videos
  • Alibaba is the biggest cloud computing vendor in China and the fourth worldwide

SHANGHAI: Technology giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has facial recognition technology which can specifically pick out members of China’s Uighur minority, surveillance industry researcher IPVM said in a report.
Alibaba itself said it was “dismayed” a unit developed software which can tag ethnicity in videos, and that the feature was never intended to be deployed to customers.
The report comes as human rights groups accuse China of forcing over 1 million Muslim Uighurs into labor camps in the region of Xinjiang, and call out firms suspected of complicity.
China has repeatedly denied forcing anyone into what it has called vocational training centers, and has also said Xinjiang is under threat from Islamist militants.
Still, sensitivities have prompted caution among Chinese Internet firms which often self-censor to avoid running afoul of a government which strictly controls online speech, and which last month published draft rules to police livestreaming.
US-based IPVM in a report published on Wednesday said software capable of identifying Uighurs appears in Alibaba’s Cloud Shield content moderation service for websites.
Alibaba describes Cloud Shield as a system that “detects and recognizes text, pictures, videos, and voices containing pornography, politics, violent terrorism, advertisements, and spam, and provides verification, marking, custom configuration and other capabilities.”
An archived record of the technology https://perma.cc/9ZUV-UD2F shows it can perform such tasks as “glasses inspection,” “smile detection,” whether the subject is “ethnic” and, specifically, “Is it Uighur.”
Consequently, if a Uighur livestreams a video on a website signed up to Cloud Shield, the software can detect that the user is Uighur and flag the video for review or removal, IPVM researcher Charles Rollet told Reuters.
IPVM said mention of Uighurs in the software disappeared near the time it published its report.
Alibaba in a statement said it was “dismayed” that Alibaba Cloud developed facial recognition software that includes ethnicity as an attribute for tagging video imagery, and that it never intended the software to be used in this manner. The feature was “trial technology” not intended for customers.
Alibaba did not mention Uighurs in its statement.
“We have eliminated any ethnic tag in our product offering,” an Alibaba spokeswoman told Reuters.
Alibaba is listed on both the New York and Hong Kong stock exchanges. It is the biggest cloud computing vendor in China and the fourth worldwide, showed data from researcher Canalys.
Earlier this month, US lawmakers sent letters to Intel Corp. and Nvidia Corp. following reports of their computer chips being used in the surveillance of Uighurs.


Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
Updated 28 min 33 sec ago

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
  • Taliban spokesman says first vice president wants to sabotage the peace talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday demanded the execution of Taliban prisoners as violence surges in the country in spite of US-sponsored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”