Toilet with facial recognition machine raised privacy concerns in China

By Mengyuan Ge

Hong Kong, 10:30 PM, December 8, 2020

  • A toilet paper dispenser equipped with facial recognition in Dongguan city raised public concerns about the technology that could leak personal information.


A heated debate sparked online when the facial recognition machine was spotted in a public toilet in Dongguan city, Guangdong Province. The paper dispenser requires people to scan their faces before giving out tissue papers. It helps to reduce waste by limiting the amount of paper one person could take in a certain period of time, reported state broadcaster CCTV Thursday.


The machine was shut down after it became a heated topic on the social media platform, according to a statement Dongguan’s Urban Management and Law Enforcement Bureau released on Sunday.


The Weibo topic: “using facial recognition to access toilet paper” was viewed 110 million times by midnight Tuesday. Netizens voiced their concerns that the machine could leak personal information.


One user commented: “It’s totally abusing the technology and will only lead to trouble. Stern regulations must be made to restrict the high-tech applications related to citizen’s privacy.”


It addressed one of the biggest public concerns in Chinese society – the rampant use of biological technology that lays the danger of personal data leaks.


However, the facial recognition data leak is no news in China. Xinhua news agency reported in July that some online vendors are selling facial recognition data for only 0.5 yuan each. Other personal information such as photo, ID number, and phone number were also repeatedly been found for sale at alarmingly low prices.


Growing public concerns over the rampant use of personal data collection have pushed Chinese authorities to tighten regulations on facial recognition technology.


Several Chinese cities have moved to regulate the abuse of facial recognition. Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, ordered real estate agents to remove facial recognition systems from the sales center on November 29. Tianjin Municipality passed a new policy on December 1, which prohibits businesses and institutes from collecting personal biometric information.


According to People’s Daily, China’s state media, these steps by local governments are following the data protection daft law that was released in October and is currently under review. The draft provides rules for collecting personal data including online shopping records and biometric features.