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Huawei patent mentions use of Uighur-spotting tech (bbc.co.uk)
278 points by mellosouls 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 82 comments

“The basic premise of a free society is that you shouldn’t be subject to tracking by the government without suspicion of wrongdoing. You are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Shankar Narayan, technology and liberty project director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said. “The widespread use of face surveillance flips the premise of freedom on its head and you start becoming a society where everyone is tracked no matter what they do all the time.”


China is becoming a horrifying totalitarian state that uses tech to crush opposition. I am afraid that the advances in weaponry and surveillance have rendered a revolution by the oppressed impossible. It was difficult for freedom to be established against tyranny in bygone centuries; even the US required the intervention of France and Spain to win its freedom. Now, it will be only maybe doable with outside help... But with the rising populist and nationalist tides, this is unlikely.

It has been one for a long time. I'm afraid all countries are headed in that direction and will only stop it if they wake up and realize that surveillance is bad without due cause (a warrant for example to stop a terrorist action). Government is much like a corporation, it's end goal is to maximize control (corporations maximize earnings) however. Only checks put in place can limit that along with resets (elections) which allow a constant purge of individuals seeking to gain too much power and citizens educated in the value of that. That's one reason I've always supported term limits of 12 years across the board, except -maybe- the supreme court.

The US was and probably still is doing the same thing as China with its domestic surveillance programs. They just have a better marketing / PR department about it. But don’t be mistaken, if you speak against this in the US, you’ll commit suicide, or spend the rest of your life in prison or in exile as a traitor.

> They just have a better marketing / PR department about it.

The fact that opposing views could be brought into public discourse, not silenced or censored in QQ or Weibo, makes a huge difference.

It is not just marketing or PR. It is allowing the civil society to take part in public discourse, much like the recent debate on censoring Donald Trump.

> if you speak against this in the US, you’ll commit suicide

Not to the same extent in China, far from it.

Donal Trump was not censored. He violated policy.

Sure, the Uighurs are just violating China's policy too.

That is completely unrelated.

Give one example please.

No you won't, I've been a loud mouth libertarian (little L) my entire life, I'm still here many years later, I even check my FBI profile every 5 years or so, it's rather dull. US is little league surveillance vs China in terms of consequences. Even Jack Ma couldn't escape their hammer.

The idea somehow we can limit governments' use of such technologies is an illusion, governments are such organization where they would seek to monitor and contain 'hostile' actions by its own nature. The only thing we can do is develop better decwntralized, secure technologies. Politics alone can stop securiry cameras being installed, but what about other more obscure methods? only technology can defeat technology.

The issue is that technology, by nature, tracks what we do, unless it's specifically designed to hide/obfuscate your activity.

...and the progressive integration of tech with government means that government will have increasingly more access to data on individuals.

In my opinion, we need more decentralized tech.

>The issue is that technology, by nature, tracks what we do, unless it's specifically designed to hide/obfuscate your activity.

My Hammer never try'd to obfuscate anything nor did my milling machine or my C64. You are too much into today's Orwell-ism to even imagine that technology was once for you without exploitation from a third party.

I can't agree. We choose what goes in cameras, phones, etc. Technology is just technology, humans choose where to place it (surveillance, recording activities).

Seems like that principle would be easy to circumvent by simply letting private companies do the tracking and punishing in return for favorable treatment by the government.

Talk to your government wherever you are to make facial/gender/racial identification illegal in any technology, so it is not patentable

Make sure to contact them on their microsoft365gov account hosted on Azure too: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/cognitive-service...

What an absolute joke, literally every government on the planet is chomping at the bit for this stuff and already openly does it apart from the race stuff which most certainly happens behind the scenes. What we need is better governments not better companies allowed to do such things.

> Make sure to contact them on their microsoft365gov account hosted on Azure too

This looks like a failed attempt at whataboutism: What does Microsoft’s product have to do with racial and/or ethnic spotting?

They have literally admitted that government agencies use their tech for racial profiling.

May I suggest a search engine here?

The onus is on you, links please?

What's with all the dogwhistles? Just call it facial recognition. The extra bait is just going to derail the conversation into arguments about the role race and gender actually play in the system.

I would like to provide some thoughts from crossing side, as Chinese. I hope you guys be peaceful if an argument is inevitable. This is only my view and it definitely is biased. I have never lived in a free country. If my visa gets approved this year, I will go to a graduate school to get my master degree in the USA this fall.

1.These kinds of systems have been used by the Chinese government for many years. Being tracked is not even a big deal in our lives. The big deal is that the communication applications(QQ, Wechat) are dominated by one company(Tencent) and I can calculate it out with my toe that they share every word I said, every picture I posted with the government. They work with the government and the government promises Tencent is the only one allowed to provide communication applications in China. I have been kicked out of chat groups many times since I said something inappropriate. My friends and family also warned me not to talk about those topics. Many people have been put in jail because of this. Tencent also invested companies outside China, like Reddit, Epic Games.

2. I saw Falun Gong mentioned in this thread. From what I know and experienced, Falun Gong is a dangerous cult. When I was in high school, one time I broke my leg and I had to go to see a doctor. On the road a woman approached me and tried to convince me that doctor is not helpful, Falun Gong would be better. They printed many pamphlets, throw them into your home at night, sometimes there would even be a disk. They print their slogan on cash. That was about ten years ago when I was in a small town. And they mostly activate in those small towns and try to recruit middle-aged women. I also noticed them running many websites and newsagents now in foreign countries, from what I see, most contents on their websites are much worse than FOX news. IMO, the gov have done some things wrong or even terrible when to expel it, but to expel it is not wrong. They are dangerous, you are warned.

3. People in Xinjiang are under suppression, but that is far from Fascism. There are movements pushed by the government to incorporate minorities. These movements are stronger than previous years recently, and sometimes they might even be forced. These movements, from different perspectives, would seem different. But to summarize, it's like that the government says: just give up your religion and don't fight against us, and we will make sure you have a comfortable life. What is included in this comfortable life is a small amount of subsidy every month, a job if you want, a small house, free college for the next generation. The minorities are at advantage points in society from my view, if they are willing to give up religious belief and obey(actually most minorities born after 90s do not hold religious beliefs anymore since these movements have been undertaken for many years). One of my roommates back in university is a minority, when the university calculates his score in GaoKao(SAT in the USA?), they have to add 20 to it. The total score is 750. Minorities in this society also have another advantage, from what I know, local governments do not have jurisdiction over minorities, which means, say, if I fight with one guy from Xinjiang, I would get in jail and he would be sent back to Xinjiang. Some guys from Xinjiang used to take advantage of this, they would put up a small stall to sell dessert, if you get close and ask them how much, they would cut a piece off and ask you to buy it, if you don't buy, several other guys would approach and threaten you. Well, you can't fight as I said, you have to pay some money. In recent years I heard fewer stories like this. Most guys from Xinjiang are OK, one restaurant nearby run by several people from Xinjiang have the best Kebab I have ever known.





With all due respect your third point is written from a point of view which is from the dominant majority and it would be illustrative to reflect on those points to understand why people are horrified.

First of all, it’s never as simple as “giving up your beliefs” — for certain religious folk, giving up a belief is akin to eternal damnation; regardless of whether you believe in the religion or not, do /you/ have the right to force them to contravene the beliefs without an /extremely/ good justification?

Secondly, your point about “advantage” is a difference between ideology between meritocracy and fairness — a poor child from a village in Dong Bei is much more unlikely to get into Tsinghua or Beijing university, than a rich child from Shanghai because they have less resources; is it /fair/ for the child? If I open a programme which only tutors poor children, would it be justified for the child in Shanghai to point a finger at the poor child and say that it’s /unfair/ that he isn’t allowed to be admitted?

Good luck with the visa — I hope you get the chance to go to graduate school. Thank you for taking the time to explain your thoughts.

Another thing that stops someone from Dong Bei from succeeding is universities like Tsinghua/Beijing have set quotas for each province/area. For example Tsinghua has more open seats for the city of Beijing than the entire province of Sichuan. If you're born in Beijing you not only have far higher likelyhood of getting accepted to a top school, but also the Gao Kao is much easier in Beijing than in other provinces.

Would you please explain then, why people from Xinjiang needs to be put to camps by millions if most of them are ok?

Also, why should they give up their religion?

because the million number is made up with absolutely zero evidence

Here are some satellite photos of 380 new detention centers or re-education/work camps: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/24/china-has-buil...

It might be possible that they are all empty, but that seems unlikely given the other reporting on the topic from various sources.

Do you know who funds ASPI? Let's just say the people who funds ASPI are the same people who blow people up in the middle east

This is more appropriately labelled as counter evidence.

Considering the "millions" estimate was extrapolated from Zenz unsubstantiated feeling of ~1200 camps existing in 2017. These recent and relatively comprehensive GIS studies have conclusively proven that ~400 camps has existed _ever_, in varying states of construction and decommission in the past 3 years, i.e not all were operating concurrently. It's always interesting that Zenz estimates gets repeated in the same studies that simultaneously debunk them. I'm sure being funded by parties with anti-China interests has nothing to do with the manufacturing narrative process. For example Zenz was alleging up to 1M was interned in 2018. Choice quote from latest Buzzfeed piece by Killing regarding situation in 2018:

>"The business owner had heard rumors that the internment camps were not for education, as the government claimed, but mass detention. “We had heard that mass detention had occurred, that people were disappearing into these schools. We didn’t know much but we knew that it wasn’t a good place,” she said."

So 1/12th of an ethnicity is being rounded up and somehow it's still relegated to "rumor". Zenz claim around this time is 1/6th. That's about incarceration rate of black youth in US. 1/6 of your social circle gets round up, and it is not rumor territory. The entire allegation chain has been a coordinated clowns show. At the end of the day, XJ is less a human rights issue than a matter of manufactured consent for anti-China foreign policy. The latter would be less effective if XJ internment doesn't even eclipse US prison industrial complex. CCP is capable of interning millions, but so far the evidence points to the contrary.

Two articles explaining how different groups of observers arrive at the estimate of a million:



They admit the number may not be precise (because China wouldn’t allow direct access of evidence), but it is “credible”.

This number agrees with the “detention targets” (of 10 percent of the population) shared by local officials, and the average estimates by local people.

Detention targets of local officials and estimates by local people are evidence. Not air-tight, but are reasonable when China forbids independent verification.

The second article also mentions indirect evidence, other than local reports or satellite images. All very conservative estimates give about 200,000. But these are very conservative estimates. The actual number is likely much higher, and suggests that “a million” isn’t too far off.

Some news reporting on the scale of the detention camps in Xinjiang, with satellite images [1], an account of a survivor [2], and how the 1 million number was estimated [3].

I think it is nowhere near zero evidence.

[1]: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/alison_killing/xinjiang...

[2]: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/12/uighur-xinjian...

[3]: https://qz.com/1599393/how-researchers-estimate-1-million-uy...

It's really suspicious how many downvotes these responses are getting.

Not sure how any of this justifies the forced sterilization and forced labor and reeducation camps. Nobody cares about this other nonsense.

1. Of course,but they are a big deal and will be used against you in the future when you least expect it because a politician decides to not like you any longer.

2. Falun Gong is indeed a cult, but dangerous compared to the CCP? I don't think so.

3. The Chinese government is not a traditional fascist state in that they more or less allow capitalism on the small to medium scale to thrive as long as it doesn't stir the pot. However it is a totalitarian state where it is not okay to think freely or express your thoughts unless you like dark rooms and beatings.

A lot of what you are saying here is a fair opinion, if you have a strong belief in granting the government the power to try to shape a better society.

What makes most countries in the world different from China is that the people have less faith that the government will do the right thing. It might be because freedom of speech and freedom of press allows other countries to better learn from their mistakes.

Just as in China, countries around the rest of the world have a history of allowing the government control over some form of social organization, and then the government creates a very shocking outcome.

For example, in Canada, for decades the government took indigenous children away from their native homes and families, and sent them to residential school. The idea was very similar to the idea today's China government has about how to manage Uighur population in Xinjiang - to educate them in the correct way to live, to help them become better citizens, and not live as some kind of savage. Nowadays, this is considered one of the most shameful parts of Canadian history, because we know that this destroyed people's families, it ruined the native culture, and these schools were places where a lot of abuse occurred. Fundamentally, it came from a mindset of "government knows better for you than you know yourself"... But government was wrong!

There are also many embarrassing histories of this in other countries, a recent example is perhaps how America's strict criminal justice system and "war on drugs" resulted in million or more non-violent people in prison.

These policies might come from a noble idea. The government always says it is trying to engineer a better society, but is it really better when so many people have their rights taken away?

Of course, for the people who are in the majority, it might seem that life got better. But from the perspective of the people who are targeted by the program, it often seem like life got worse.

Even if China minorities get some extra bonus on gaokao, or some extra money, this does not always balance out the other struggles they have in life. For example perhaps they do not want to go to work camp. They do not want to learn Mandarin. They do not want to install tracking app on the phone. Maybe they want to teach their children in local language, they want to keep their local religion, they want to be free to go out in the park for walk and not carry phone with them for checkpoint. For them, that life, that freedom is more important than harmonious society.

If it is hard for you to imagine this is the case for Uighur people, or Tibet people, then even just think Guangdong people. Not minority group, no gaokao bonus, they are probably more rich than people from Gansu or Hunan, but still it is some kind of cultural loss for them to not be able to use local language in the school. Should the government make these decisions, or should each community be allowed to decide for itself how it want to live?

This is one of the fundamental differences between very strong central government and ideological single party system like China, and countries which allow more debate and more autonomy in different regions. Does it make sense?

FYI: If you search with Chinese in google, you can actually find lots of Chinese government tender from the official government website that request for the cctv system with the ability to recognise Uyghur.

a different view

it's a 26 page with (almost) all words, and it mentions uighur (as well as han) once in one place and used as example, and at the same example it mentions gender and age as factors. Yet BBC is "creating" a horrible headline. By this definitation all patents used by car auto pilot feature that could enhance people (in particular colored people) detection, is a human right voilation

With all the moral outrage recently, I assume Amazon will stop carrying Huawei phones until the CCP stops putting Uyghurs in concentration camps, amirite?

It wouldn't be a sound business move, nor would it generate additional revenue from the positive PR.

It's been established that China is a key stakeholder in the economy of many nations, and it would be foolish to mismanage that relationship imo.

In case you’re wondering what is happening with Uighur in China, please read this recent piece: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/12/uighur-xinjian...


I can understand the sentiment, but this is HN and not Parler or Twitter. If you have nothing intelligent to add to the discussion better stay silent. This language is not welcome here.


Bad things happening elsewhere doesn't make it ok to destroy this place. If you want to comment here, we need you to follow the site guidelines by posting thoughtfully and substantively. "Fuck these fascists" isn't that, and snark isn't ok either.

It isn't about emotions—there are lots of ways to express your emotions that would be fine. Unfortunately the internet tends to only know one way to do that, and that is to vent flaming rage. This is not ok on Hacker News because it destroys the container we're trying to build here. It's not possible to have flamewar and curious conversation at the same time.

If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and sticking to the rules when posting here, we'd be grateful.

You're missing the point. Comments here need to add something to the conversation for the rest of us.

Your emotions do not benefit anyone/anything.

If you're looking for a place to vent your emotions, other social media sites are a better fit - reddit, twitter, facebook, etc...


See, the problem is you misunderstand the situation.

The legal/political system in China is not new. Actually, China is probably most stable system throughout written history, practicing roughly same government/legal system and its approach to relation between government and individual person for the past two millennia.

Which is to say that in China, as opposed to western civilizations, there is no human rights as we now it because Chinese people are and have always been subservient to the government.

In western civilizations monarchy powers slowly eroded and had to either give concessions or be overthrown in a violent revolt. This never happened in China.

If you have doubts, just read The Origins of Political Order (Francis Fukuyama). This is well explained there.

Ignore labels like "People's Republic of China", the fact is that people in China have only so much rights as it suits the government to give them for the country to prosper. And it does not hesitate to reserve those rights the moment it suits some need.

Do I agree with this? It does not matter.

Stay on the facts.

China is probably most stable system throughout written history, practicing roughly same government/legal system and its approach to relation between government and individual person for the past two millennia.

Sure, if you ignore the history of China's Imperial dynasties, Mongolian rule, British rule, Japanese rule, and Mao/Early CCP. But other then all of these different governments and legal systems, Chinese has had the same government and legal system.

In western civilizations monarchy powers slowly eroded and had to either give concessions or be overthrown in a violent revolt. This never happened in China.

China overthrew its monarchy in 1911. Hundreds of thousands died. Since then China has had multiple violent revolutions resulting in the death of millions, though none of them were against the monarchy.

> China overthrew its monarchy in 1911. Hundreds of thousands died.

So you say every time there is a revolt and one government is replaced with another it means a fundamentally different way of governing people, different political system?

The reality is that nothing really changed and China and, again, I will invoke "On Origins of Political Order" because it is very well explained there.

Just because a monarchy has been replaced with Mao (de facto monarch) and then with single party doesn't mean people gained any rights.

While people in western world were slowly getting more rights (shifting from a absolute monarch to rule of law to concept of human rights) nothing of that sort happened in China.

Think of communist party as a collection of princes that band together to govern a huge mass of people but not for the good of the people, but rather for the good of the party (collection of princes).

Where those goals coincide this results in goals for the good of the people but where they do not, this will result in killings, mass incarcerations, etc.

I think we actually agree and your follow-up comment makes it clear that I misunderstood your point. I was focusing on a nitpick and that's my bad.

> Fuck these fascists

Not far from where I live there's China embassy. 24 hours a day 7 days a week next to the embassy there's a guy sitting, just outside during summer and inside a tent during winter, and there's table with leaflets nearby. That guy constantly reminds all the people visiting China embassy about persecution of Falun Gong (which I did not know about until I encountered him).

That guy is helping. You, cursing people who are not here in the place where everybody agrees with you, are not.

That guy is doing the opposite - Falun Gong is a notorious cult, it's like a Chinese Sciencetology. It damages the actual critique his message might contain.

>Falun Gong is a notorious cult

Regardless of whether this is true or not, I fail to see how it in any way justifies the level of persecution (extrajudicial imprisonment, torture, killing, organ harvesting etc.) endured by the group:


That conservative newspaper Epoch Times run by a Falun Gong dude as well, although my family doesn't seem to care because they like the articles..

> Falun Gong is a notorious cult, it's like a Chinese Sciencetology

Is that fact? Not that I really care: I would protects church of Scientology if they were persecuted same way as Falun Gong. Just curious.

> It damages the actual critique his message might contain.

How so?

>Is that fact?

Pretty much, among other things they advocate that 'race mixing' is the result of aliens trying to exterminate humanity[1], they're pretty much out of their minds and also super homophobic.

>How so?

If you came to my country and tried to promote a cult I doubt you're going to convince people of what you're trying to convince them off, in fact it would probably make them less receptive to your notion of freedom and more enthusiastic about the crackdown on minorities with distinct cultures


Nothing weirder than any other religion.

Tell me what I can do

These values seem to be incompatible with the aims and actions of the Chinese (system of) government.

This might sound like a joke, but I believe spreading that info about Uyghurs to your friends in social networks might be the first thing to do. Western governments do nothing about this situation because voters do not ask/pressure them, which is in turn, because most western citizens don't really know (I suppose) how bad is the situation with human rights in China.

Most people I know have already heard about it. But there is no attention nor outrage.

Which specific measures could (a community of) governments take to incentivize or enforce the rights declared in this document?

impose tariffs on imports derived from violations of these rights, or restrict sales of products sourced from companies that use forced work, for example.

I mean, I share your sentiment even if it doesn't add value to the conversation, but they are communists, it's quite the opposite of fascism and equally as or more evil.

They are not at all mutually exclusive.

Unless you believe the recent edits on wikipedia.

Which recent edits?

China is a capitalist state - its economy is based on corporate profit. If the word communism has any meaning it cannot apply to China.

I can't say for sure, whether China is fascist, as I don't know whether they are ultranationalist.

However, they definitely are authoritarian and are suppressing and murdering minorities or political opponents.

Under central planning tens of millions of people died of starvation. Their economy has vastly improved after reforms.

I agree, that the current economic situation is likely much better for almost everyone in China.

I'm not so certain, however, that the previous failures can be directly attributed to central planning? It seems officials were too afraid to come forward about issues regarding food production, due to repercussions of admitting failure. But this might not be inherent to central planning: the authoritarian nature of the state, punishments for admitting failure and perverse incentives causing officials to report success likely were more direct precursors of this outcome.

I would love to hear other opinions on this.

Central planning has failed all over the world, across culture, climate and geography. It has already failed under a wide variety of parameters.

Is there anyone who would like to explain their downvote?

In other news, Huawei has succeeded in training the most accurate model to spot the word Uighur in PDFs.

Well, the patent also mentions that it can spot Han people. Apparently it cannot discriminate between Caucasians / Indians and Africans. There needs to be work done there. :P

This technology is like a knife. Depending on who wields it, the result can be awesome or awful. Let us hope it is mostly the former.

What positive can come from race detection technology?

I read the documentation, it is an attribute identification system. Say you want to search for a 'white male wearing red shirt and nike shoes', so the attribute is 'white', 'male', red shirt', 'nike shoes'. The system identifies all these attributes from recordings and find images matching the description.

If only ‘race’ was such an innocuous attribute, and couldn’t be used to discriminate against or harm others, like ‘nike shoes’. Unfortunately history and present day experiences say otherwise. And I’m not talking about the shoes.

I still don't understand the upside.

Not many people would object to police manually trawling through CCTV after a break-in to look for the 'white male wearing a red shirt and Nike shoes' that a witness described; so the upside I suppose is efficiency of an existing process?

I guess I am used to think from technical point of view. Think the upside this way: say a system can track either a Chinese spy or Capitol Hill mob and get him arrested in 30 seconds.

joke aside, yes, I think the downside is massive (any kind of facial recognition). I believe this is inline with the development of transportation technologies. We would never need things like this when people are not moving so fast. We have had the ability to track people in the past.

So, the intended use in this case is most likely appalling, but just to answer your question anyway... a hypothetical automated medical diagnosis device may use “race” as a factor, given there are small genetic differences (e.g. sickle cell) that may influence medical decisions, and different ethnic groups do seem to have different patterns of illness (e.g. differences in Covid mortality rates that aren’t explained by socioeconomic status).

I have a cool way an automated medical diagnosis device can reliably determine the race of a patient: ask them. Does not seem worth any of the potential risks (misdiagnosis due to a bad algorithm, ethnic oppression, etc) to avoid a single question

Is there a way we can use Deep Learning to ask the patient? I promised the shareholders Deep Learning.

I'd say the "tech" in their comment is "good recognition tech and all the foundational ML/AI tech that gives it practical application which will unavoidably include unpalatable ones."

I was thinking about missing children being identified faster, once we can identify individual features instead of group features.

Not at all about race.

This is basic image recognition and of course corporate would try to patent anything.

The same technology could be used to check if corporations have enough POC or women in boards etc. And it would be applauded.

Why get surprised when it's used for nefarious stuff?

Facial recognition software to count board members? Would that be applauded?

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