Huawei Patent Reveals the Use of Tech to Spot Uighur Minorities

A recent finding from a Huawei patent mentions the use of Uighur-spotting tech. As the video-surveillance research group IPVM revealed the news first, the patent has a system that "identifies people who appear to be of Uighur origin among images of pedestrians."

Initially and jointly filed in 2018 by the tech giant and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Huawei's patent uses deep-learning AI techniques to identify various physical features and body postures of pedestrians filmed in the street. Uighurs are referenced as one "race" that "can be" detected in the "target" pedestrian."

"For example, the target object is a pedestrian. The attributes of the target object can be gender (male, female), age (such as teenagers, middle-aged, old), race (Han, Uyghur), body (fat, thin, standard), top [clothing] style (short sleeve, long sleeve), top color (black, red, blue, green, white, yellow), etc. [emphasis added]," the report reads. 

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Not the First Time

Despite vehemently denying the accusation, this patent is not the first time a Chinese company was thrown under the bus over targeted racism and discrimination. 

Last year, The Washington Post exposed Huawei and Megvii, an image-recognition specialist, to have tested and validated 'Uighur alarms.' The two tech companies worked together to develop one of the country's most extensive facial recognition software, potentially recognizing Uighur minorities and alerting the police. 

Earlier in 2019, IPVM revealed that SenseTime, a Chinese-based AI company, and Megvii had formed several references to Uighur minorities in their patents, as reported from the BBC. SenseTime believed that the discoveries were intended as ways for facial-recognition software to improve for more efficient security protection, including finding a "middle-aged Uighur with sunglasses and a beard."

After the news broke out, the company apologized for the potentially racist references. 

Ambassadors' Stance

The controversies surrounding Huawei and its partners led Antoine Griezmann, an international football star for the French national team and FC Barcelona, to cut his commercial ties with the tech giant. 

Speaking to 31,8 million followers on Instagram, the FIFA World Cup winner said that he'd ended the relationship after reports alleging Huawei of testing the software to help police detect Uighurs. Griezmann had been the commercial face of Huawei since 2017, a year after his prolific performance at the 2016 UEFA Euro, where France placed the runner-up after losing 1-0 against Portugal. 

"One technical requirement of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security's video-surveillance networks is the detection of ethnicity - particularly of Uighurs," Maya Wang from Human Rights Watch told the BBC.

Uighur people are a mostly Muslim ethnic group living in Xinjian province on China's northern-western side. Since 2017, the Chinese government has reportedly held more than one million Muslims in secretive detention camps, with many references to this as an example of modern-day cultural genocide.

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