China: Alibaba software accused of targeting Uyghurs

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Shanghai | Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has developed facial recognition software capable of identifying Uyghurs, a Muslim minority under close surveillance in Xinjiang (Northwest), according to the “New York Times” daily.

For several years now, the authorities have engaged in a policy of maximum security in this region after numerous deadly attacks committed against civilians and attributed to Uyghur “separatists” and “Islamists”.

Foreign experts accuse Beijing of having interned at least a million Muslims in Xinjiang in “re-education camps”. Beijing speaks of “vocational training centers” intended to distance the population from religious extremism.

An Alibaba website explained how to use facial recognition software to detect Uyghurs or other ethnic minorities in photos and videos, the New York Times explains.

The texts in question were removed from the web by the Chinese group. But they had been consulted by the American research firm IPVM which transmitted them daily, says the newspaper.

Alibaba did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment on Thursday. But according to the “New York Times”, the offending function was only used on a trial basis.

The undisputed leader of online commerce, founded by Jack Ma, one of the richest men in China, has diversified in recent years into cloud computing, supermarkets and even cinema.

Last week, the Chinese smartphone and telecom juggernaut Huawei had already been accused by the IPVM firm of testing software to recognize Uyghurs.

The private company denied the accusations, but failed to convince footballer Antoine Griezmann. The French striker of FC Barcelona has broken his contract with the group of which he had been the ambassador since 2017.

China faces growing Western pressure over its security policy in Xinjiang, carried out in the name of anti-terrorism.

Surveillance has been significantly reinforced in recent years: multiple identity checks, gates at the entrance to buildings, facial recognition cameras, confiscation of passports, DNA collections and police roadblocks.

China has been hit in recent decades by several attacks attributed to Uyghur militants.

The year 2014 was notably marked by a knife attack (31 dead) at Kunming station (southwest) and another with explosives (39 dead) against a market in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

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