China A.I. firms and Huawei filed to patent technology that could identify Uighur Muslims, report says

Surveillance cameras are mounted on a put up at Tiananmen Sq. as snow falls in Beijing, China, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Photography

GUANGZHOU, China — A new file finds patent applications belonging to Huawei and a team of China-basically basically based artificial intelligence firms for programs that can detect those who’re share of a Muslim minority team.

The ethnic Uighurs, who dwell mostly in China’s west, had been identified by the United Nations, United States, United Kingdom and others as a repressed team. Authorities allegedly use frequent surveillance technology to visual show unit the placement’s Uighur inhabitants. The Chinese govt denies mistreating Uighurs and says those camps are vocational coaching facilities.

IPVM, a U.S.-basically basically based research company that analyzes video surveillance technology, looked at patents in China connected to programs that would possibly be utilized to identify Uighurs’ faces. IPVM jointly published its research with the BBC.

One in every of the patents — jointly submitted in 2018 by Huawei and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a govt research company — says the algorithms for the patented technology will also be used to identify the attributes of a pedestrian, for instance. One attribute that will also be identified is “flee.” Uighurs are referenced as one “flee” that will also be detected by Huawei’s system.

That patent is for an “object attribute recognition contrivance, tool, computing gear and system,” according to a translation of the filing from IPVM and verified by CNBC.

Huawei instructed CNBC it is “taking proactive steps” to amend its patent software program.

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all sorts, along with utilizing technology to form ethnic discrimination. Identifying contributors’ flee used to be by no contrivance share of the research and vogue mission. It goes to by no contrivance bear in mind was share of the software program and we are taking proactive steps to amend it,” a spokesperson for the corporate instructed CNBC by electronic mail.

“We’re persistently working to trace sure new and evolving technology is developed and applied with the utmost care and integrity.”

The Chinese Academy of Sciences did no longer answer to a ask for comment. The Chinese embassy in Washington instructed CNBC in December that U.S. politicians abolish “disinformation” relating to the Uighurs in say to “have China’s vogue.”

A United Nations file in 2018 described concerns that bigger than 1,000,000 Uighurs and other minorities had been being “held in so-called counter-extremism facilities” in the Xinjiang location. One more two million had been compelled into “so-called ‘re-training camps’ for political and cultural indoctrination” in Xinjiang, the file acknowledged.

Loads of those camps contrivance basically basically based on what Amnesty International describes as a “highly restrictive and discriminatory” rules that China claims is designed to fight extremism.

Closing June, the UN again raised concerns about “the collective repression of the inhabitants,” highlighting the spiritual and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet in its file.

Megvii cites patent ‘misunderstanding’

One more patent highlighted by IPVM used to be filed by Chinese AI giant Megvii in 2019. It outlines an image recognition system that can abet trace pictures of contributors in a database.

One in every of the classifications it can most likely look is ethnicity. Megvii’s system will also be used to identify and trace pictures of Uighurs, the patent states.

A Megvii spokesperson acknowledged the language in its patent is “birth to misunderstanding.”

“The patent software program pertains to portrait retrieval and technology to re-trace pictures which had been labeled incorrectly in present databases. All pictures and underlying databases are equipped and held by third events,” a Megvii spokesperson instructed CNBC over WeChat.

The company acknowledged its technology “is no longer a facial recognition resolution, nor in anyway represents an contrivance to design ethnic identification solutions. Megvii has no longer developed and ought to not ever design or promote racial or ethnic labelling solutions.”

On the different hand, the patent refers explicitly to classifying pictures of contributors “according to Han, Uighur, non-Han, non-Uighur” ethnicity, according to a CNBC translation of the doc. The Han other folk are the ethnic majority in China.

“Megvii acknowledges that previously, we bear in mind interested by our business vogue and lacked acceptable administration of our marketing and marketing, gross sales, and operations materials. We’re endeavor measures to proper the topic,” the corporate acknowledged.

Or no longer it is no longer the first time Huawei and Megvii had been linked to technology that can allegedly be used to identify Uighurs. Closing month, IPVM claimed the 2 firms tested a facial recognition system that would possibly be utilized to detect Uighurs and send signals to authorities.

Huawei acknowledged on the time that the technology used to be “simply a take a look at and it has no longer seen accurate-world software program.” Megvii acknowledged on the time that its “solutions aren’t designed or personalized to focus on or trace ethnic groups.”

In 2019, the U.S. Commerce Division save Megvii on a U.S. blacklist identified as the Entity Checklist. American corporations are restricted from exporting to firms on the checklist.

The U.S. govt alleged on the time that the corporate and other entities added to the checklist “had been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s marketing and marketing campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other contributors of Muslim minority groups” in China’s Xinjiang location.

Uighur reference called ‘regrettable’

SenseTime, one other AI company in China, filed a patent in 2019 for an image database search system that used to be described so as to retrieve pictures in a database utilizing sure attributes.

The patent describes how a particular person would possibly perhaps use the word “Uighur” as a search attribute.

SenseTime called that reference to Uighurs “regrettable” and instructed CNBC by means of electronic mail that it had developed a code of ethics around artificial intelligence for the reason that patent software program used to be filed.

“This direct AI research … contains facial recognition of all ethnicities without prejudice. The reference to Uyghurs is regrettable and is one amongst the examples contained in the software program supposed for instance the attributes the algorithm acknowledges,” a spokesperson instructed CNBC.

“It used to be neither designed nor supposed in anyway to discriminate, which is against our values. We are able to update the patent on the following on hand different. Meanwhile, the software program additionally pre-dates the AI Code of Ethics, which we developed later in 2019,” the corporate acknowledged.

‘Flee, ethnicity’ makes use of

Change into self reliant from the patent filings from AI corporations, IPVM additionally published patents filed by Alibaba and Baidu that trace reference to ethnicity.

A patent first applied for by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2016 used to be for an “image location generation contrivance, tool and image recognition module” that contains “flee, ethnicity” as conceivable “applications,” CNBC confirmed.

Uighurs weren’t mentioned in the filing.

“Racial or ethnic discrimination or profiling in any derive violates our policies and values. We by no contrivance supposed our technology for use for and ought to not ever enable it for use for focused on particular ethnic groups,” an Alibaba spokesperson instructed CNBC, without addressing the reference to “flee, ethnicity” that the corporate utilized in the patent.

Chinese search giant Baidu filed a patent in 2018 for an image recognition system. Ethnicity is one amongst the attributes its proposed system can look.

The company did no longer single out Uighurs or other particular ethnic groups in its patent. A Baidu spokesperson instructed CNBC that the patent’s reference to ethnicity used to be an strive at a technical clarification of its technology, and the corporate drew a distinction between its proposed programs and present programs.

“Baidu has by no contrivance developed or popular its technology to profile any ethnic team. Our present facial recognition offering is no longer expedient of detecting ethnicity as an attribute,” Baidu acknowledged in a press free up by means of WeChat.

“When filing for a patent, the doc notes are supposed as an illustration of a technical clarification, in this case describing what the attribute recognition mannequin is extraordinarily than representing the anticipated implementation of the invention,” Baidu acknowledged.

“We attain no longer and ought to not ever enable our technology for use to identify or contrivance particular ethnic groups,” the corporate acknowledged.

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