Alibaba is Upset by its own Ethnicity Detection Algorithm

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Alibaba is getting international flak after it was revealed that an algorithm developed by its Cloud unit is being used by Chinese authorities to profile Muslim Uyghurs. A research report published by IPVM revealed that Alibaba’s Cloud unit had created an algorithm that uses facial recognition to detect the ethnicity or racial background of any person. This algorithm is being used by authorities to understand whether a person being analyzed is an Uyghur or not. 

China is getting criticized globally after media exposed that it’s been putting Muslim Uyghurs in forced “vocational training programs” to curb terrorist elements from the community. China has defended its move from time to time. Alibaba published a statement claiming it’s “dismayed” by the use of their facial recognition algorithm being used for politically targeting ethnic minorities. It also said that such discrimination or racial profiling goes against its policies and ethics. 

What did Alibaba say in the statement?


Racial or ethnic discrimination or profiling in any form violates Alibaba’s policies and values. We are dismayed to learn that Alibaba Cloud developed a facial recognition technology in a testing environment that included ethnicity as an algorithm attribute for tagging video imagery. We never intended our technology to be used for and will not permit it to be used for targeting specific ethnic groups. We have eliminated any ethnic tag in our product offering. This trial technology was not deployed by any customer. We do not and will not permit our technology to be used to target or identify specific ethnic groups.

  • An official statement from Alibaba

IPVM has also published another finding that the Chinese tech giants Huawei and Megvii(known as artificial intelligence unicorn) have jointly developed a software that is called as Face++. It’s a facial recognition program that can detect faces of any ethnic minority and give alert to the Chinese authorities. 

It is not the first time that dystopian activities of Chinese corporations and government have been brought to the public’s notice. Chinese corporations have aspirations to expand their businesses overseas. Still, they get scrutinized for their involvement in anti-human rights activities and ever-growing demands of political leaders from Beijing. 

Alibaba is leading the sector of Cloud computing. Now it’s understandable that it’s looking forward to expanding its business overseas. In 2019, Alibaba was the biggest Cloud provider in Asia-Pacific and third globally. 

With Alibaba trying to strengthen its presence in the international market, it’s finding it difficult to wipe its involvement in insidious anti-human rights activities. Now, the question is what it will do to improve the image in the global market.

What do you think of this facial recognition algorithm? Do you support these counter-terrorist measures that have been taken by the Chinese government? Drop the comments below to let us know. Follow us for a daily dose of tech and biz news. 

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