Tuesday, 09 March 2021

Huawei distances itself from Uighur-identifying tech patent

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Thursday 14 January 21

A patent filed in 2018 uses deep-learning AI to identify pedestrians, including their ethnicity

Yesterday, the UK government publicly criticised China’s treatment of its Uighur population, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying there was clear evidence of "internment camps, forced labour, arbitrary detention and forced sterilisation". The government will now be taking new measures to ensure that no British organisations…

Yesterday, the UK government publicly criticised China’s treatment of its Uighur population, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying there was clear evidence of "internment camps, forced labour, arbitrary detention and forced sterilisation". The government will now be taking new measures to ensure that no British organisations, deliberately or through ignorance, help contribute to this abuse of human rights.

According to the US State Department, up to two million Uighur people have been placed into internment camps.

This condemnation by the UK government comes alongside the revelation of a Huawei facial-recognition patent that specifically mentions being able to identify people based on their age, gender, or race – with Han and Uighur specifically referenced. The patent application, first filed in 2018, was penned in co-operation with the government-affiliated Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Huawei have responded to this revelation by distancing themselves from this patent, saying that the company opposes “discrimination of all types” and that ethnicity should never have been included in the application. Huawei has vowed to amend the patent.

This is the second red flag raised by video-surveillance research group IPVM about Huawei’s involvement with the ongoing Uighur situation in China. In December last year, IPVM found a “confidential” document on Huawei’s website that referenced a trial for facial recognition AI software that could raise an ‘Uighur alert’ and notify police of their presence.

IPVM also noted another Chinese tech start-up, Sensetime, as filing a patent in 2019 that featured facial recognition technology that could identify people based on race, specifically mentioning Uighurs. Sensetime has also promised to update its patent, saying that the technology was not intended to discriminate, but the references to ethnicity were included in the application as a way of demonstrating the attributes an algorithm recognises. 

Whether these patents are amended ultimately makes little difference. These companies have spent many hours and thousands of dollars on creating and training AI that can identify race; it seems nonsensical that they would not be used to discriminate in some form. As video surveillance increases around the world, such developments should serve as a grim reminder of the potential harm new technologies can have on society when being used unethically. 

 

Also in the news: 
Australian govt may step in to stop Chinese companies buying Digicel
Azercosmos and SatADSL partner for Central Asian satellite internet
Small Cell Forum launching initiative focused on neutral network hosts

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