Biometric Risk: Why China Should Say No To 'Face Swiping'

Registering facial recognition data with a biometric authentication application is all the rage in China, but it comes with major privacy concerns.

Facial recognition payment at a subway station in Zhengzhou, China
Wu Chen


BEIJING — A friend of mine recently made a business trip to China's southeastern city of Shenzhen. Arriving at an office building, he was not allowed into the elevator until he had registered his facial recognition data with a biometric authentication application. This action is called "face swiping" in China.

After some hesitation, he finally yielded to the request in order to get to his appointment on time. However, the more he thought about this afterwards, the more he regretted that he didn't stick to his principles — even if that meant he would have been letting down his company. He was worried that his biological information could be abused and misappropriated.

Face swiping is increasingly used in security inspection in China. Not only has it become normalized for use as an ID card verification process in airports and railway stations, but more and more places are following suit, including social media platforms and mobile payments among others.

It is most commonly used in office buildings and residential blocks. What is different from airports and stations is that, in order to pass the security check at an office building or a residence, one is obliged to first go through a registration and verification process. This extra step creates the risk of privacy infringement, and personal biological data could be violated and misappropriated with all kinds of consequences.

Under current circumstances of imperfect supervision, legally collected facial data is being misused.

It is worth noting that, according to a recent survey in China, embezzlement of personal information by using AI face-swapping technology is far too commonplace. A CCTV report pointed out that one can purchase as many as 1,000 strangers' photos online for a mere 2 RMB (30 US cents). Chinese media have reported that criminals have used artificial intelligence technologies to alter people's photos that they illegally obtained, and turned these photos into deep fakes for criminal purposes.

Battling against unscrupulous criminals, the eastern city of Hangzhou submitted a revised draft of the city's Property Management Regulations to the standing committee of the National People's Congress of Hangzhou for deliberation in October. The aim of this draft is to prohibit estate management bodies forcing property owners to provide biometric information such as fingerprints and face recognition to enter their community. This is the first time that discussion about the importance of "privacy and data security in relation to convenience" has entered the lexicon of local legislation.

The fact that a local legislature is seriously examining the application of face recognition is a big step forward. Many are hoping that debates about the collection of personal biological information might now be taken up at a higher level in China, with appropriate legislation applied.

Facial recognition payment in Tongxiang, China — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

The first step would be to regulate who is authorized to collect biometric data, such as faces and fingerprints. The purpose of collection should be defined clearly while the method of storage and security has to be guaranteed.

Not only should one be allowed an "opt out" choice, but an alternative method for verifying their identity has to be provided for people who are not willing to share this data.

Even if the collection of facial metric information is permitted, further clarification and transparency on the use of this data must be conditional so as to avoid misappropriation. Under current circumstances of imperfect supervision, loopholes and the existence of an illegal photo trading market, legally collected facial data is being misused.

Is your face an account or a password?

An effective check-and-balance system needs to be implemented by tech companies driven by their interest in developing an increasing number of facial recognition applications. One of the reasons why China rapidly advances in artificial intelligence is because it collects far higher amounts of data information than Europe and the United States.

Facial recognition is one of the few areas where artificial intelligence finds a wide range of real application scenarios that can be successfully commercialized. But it's precisely because of this potential that we need to be more vigilant about such "progress."

Neither office buildings nor private residencies has the ability to develop a face-swiping system themselves. They are being driven by high-tech companies trying to promote widespread usage of their applications. Therefore, just by banning the use of face swiping in offices and residences, without allowing system providers to participate in the rulemaking, will reduce the legislation to a cat-and-mouse game.

There's no doubt that improving technologies aid many people. The critical question is, as some experts put it: Is your face an account or a password?

The difference between these is clear: an account doesn't get changed regularly, whereas a password can be altered at will, and should be frequently for security's sake. Everybody has only one face, unless you squander a fortune on plastic surgery in South Korea. Using your face as an unchanging password for authenticating numerous services is at your own peril.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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