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Chinese facial recognition cameras
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Security & privacy

Are facial recognition cams like the ones in China coming to a store near you?

Get ready for an Orwellian shopping experience in New York City. Thanks to criminals claiming the five-finger discount, you’ll have to kiss your privacy goodbye. Chinese-made facial recognition cameras will scan your face to see if you’re a criminal.

Read on for details on this potential privacy nightmare.

Buying milk? Say cheese!

Walk through the doors of the Fairway grocery store on the Upper West Side of New York and you’ll see a startling sign.

A laminated notice posted at the front entrance says, “This Business collects, retains, converts, stores or shares customers’ biometric identifier information, which is information that can be used to identify or help identify you. Examples of biometric identifier information are eye scans and voiceprints.”

In other words, security cameras may record your voice or scan your face while you shop.

This type of technology is nothing new. You’ll find it in many American airports when you try to exit or enter the country. But few people suspect they’ll be under surveillance while buying milk.

Chinese facial recognition cameras are coming to the U.S.

Many security cameras come with national security risks because they’re made by a Chinese company called Hikvision. The U.S. government lists Hikvision as a national security threat because its cameras capture every face. Not only that but the data is also turned over to the communist Chinese government.

If you’re feeling deja vu, that’s probably because the government is putting another Chinese company under the microscope. Tons of government employees can’t use TikTok on their phones anymore. Several American states and federal agencies have banned TikTok due to potential spying from the Chinese government. Canada’s starting to catch up, too.

But American crime is so rampant in many cities that merchants feel they have no choice. They can adopt invasive security systems or fly the coop like Walmart did in Portland.

RELATED: Check this site to see all the high-tech surveillance your local police use

You could be falsely arrested when you shop

Hikvision’s facial recognition cameras are connected to a central data system that holds mugshots of known shoplifters and other criminals. As each shopper enters, the cameras scan your face within seconds. Store management may come after you if your face matches a criminal’s.

You may think you’re safe since you aren’t a criminal. But security cameras have a long history of mismatching faces, which leads to false arrests. People of color are especially at risk of being falsely matched because of flaws in how facial recognition systems are trained. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • When engineers design facial recognition systems, they “train” the robot using a large database of images.
  • According to Harvard University, facial recognition systems are largely trained using images of white men.
  • That means women of all races, as well as non-white men, are at a high risk of being falsely matched by a facial recognition system, Washington and Lee Law Review report.

If you want to learn more about everyday surveillance, listen to our podcast on how the government and companies buy your personal data. Kim dives into how data brokers turn our gadgets into spying tools.

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