Registering a new phone number in China will require facial recognition scan. Source: Shutterstock

Registering a new phone number in China will require facial recognition scan. Source: Shutterstock

Mobile phone usage tied to facial recognition under new Chinese law

CHINESE authorities have come up with a new law that requires users looking to sign up for a new mobile number to consent to a facial recognition scan.

The announcement has sparked a debate in the country about the safety and security of the data that is being collected, especially at a time when concerns around the unauthorized collection, storage, and usage of data seem to have peaked.

Although the new law just went into effect, mobile users in the country told various media outlets that Chinese telcos have been trying to push customers to submit to facial recognition scans for quite a while now.

According to the government, the new law is intended to help prevent fraud in a country that is heavily dependent on smartphones — with mobile numbers often serving as part of a resident or citizen’s official identity.

Previously, customers only needed to submit photocopies of national identity cards, and online platforms used an additional ‘factor’ to verify users’ identities.

However, identity theft has become a concern of late. Further, there’s the case of customers buying mobile numbers and selling them off later without informing the telcos. Both of these can be effectively remediated using facial recognition scans.

Residents of China are no stranger to the technology. Bus stops, train stations, offices, and even retailers use the technology for a variety of purposes, including effecting payment.

Hence, while there are concerns about this new law, it has less to do with people worrying about the government surveilling its citizens and more to do with unauthorized third parties misusing the data or monetizing it without consequence.

Local media in the country spoke to lawyers and experts who said that the average consumer in the country is getting increasingly worried about the fact that a number of mobile apps collect facial and other data without any express user agreement.

Further, the misuse of data is not something that criminal law in the country provides protected against, not expressly anyway.

Recent news around the sale of illegally obtained 5,000 pieces of facial data for approximately US$1.40 each and the illegal collection and use of facial data by third parties have caused residents to raise their guard.

Fortunately, the government is aware of the concerns being raised by residents and is taking action. China is keen on charging ahead with the implementation of facial recognition but is keen on ensuring that data — facial or otherwise — is collected with consent, transparently, and safely.

In the coming months, more regulations are expected to ensure data privacy and protection without hindering the country’s progress with technology.