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China Introduces Mandatory Face Scans for Phone Users

China will require telecom operators to collect face scans while registering new phone users, according to the country’s IT authority, as Beijing continues to tighten cyberspace controls.

Industry and IT ministry of China had issued a notice on “safeguarding the genuine rights and interests of citizens online”, which laid out rules for applying real-name registration.

The telecom operators should use “artificial intelligence and other technical means” to verify people’s identities when they are taking a new phone number.

The Unicom customer service representative of China said, “portrait matching” requirement means customers registering for a new phone number have to record themselves turning their head and blinking.

“Our ministry will continue to increase supervision, inspection and strictly promote the management of real-name registration for phone users,” said in the September notice.

However, the Chinese government has pushed for real-name registration for phone users since at least 2013. Most of the social media users reacted with a mixture of supportive and worry over the facial verification notice, with concerns that their biometric data could be leaked.

About the new rules, one of the users commenting on Weibo said, “This is a bit too much”.

While researchers have warned of the privacy risks associated with gathering facial recognition data, China saw one of its first lawsuits on facial recognition last month.

Previously, Chinese social media site Weibo was forced to roll out real-name registration in 2012. In early November, a Chinese professor filed a claim against a safari park in Hangzhou for demanding face scans for entry.

Many misunderstandings of social media have risen in recent years as part of the Chinese government’s push to “promote the healthy, orderly development of the Internet, protect state security and public interest”.

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