Alibaba Says It’s Not Going After Uighurs (At Least Not Yet)

from the let-us-know-when-to-yeet,-chicom dept

Oh my. Be mindful about the suddenly sensitive Chinese government. Let’s not accuse them of things they want to do when those things haven’t been done yet.

Maybe it’s just a Winnie the Pooh meme. Maybe it’s the inability of professional athletes to keep their opinions to themselves. Maybe it’s an entire landmass who doesn’t want to see its independence crushed by a government that agreed to not crush its independence for the next several years.

Never mind the narratives. Here’s what the Chinese government has been doing. It wants certain citizens prosecuted, persecuted, and ejected. The Uighur population of China has been a target for years. Nothing will change that. But it can be made worse.

Huawei — currently the target of misguided or, at least, hypocritical US government activity — has been whipping up some AI that goes beyond facial recognition. The AI being built by Huawei will identify people based on the their race, sex, and religious proclivities. Never mind the fact that facial recognition still can’t reliably recognize faces. The tech being built by Huawei promises to subject millions of Chinese residents to algorithms at least as untrustworthy as those not being asked to suss out people’s race or religious leanings.

The Chinese government isn’t worried about backlash. But those still doing business in other parts of the world (like Huawei and others) are. You can’t increase market share when the rest of the world considers you an extension of an oppressive government.

Alibaba — the Amazon of the unregulated — doesn’t want to alienate a user base it’s attempting to cultivate. It has issued a statement that serves as a somewhat reluctant middle finger to the Chinese government. There’s a whole world of marks out there. Why should Alibaba restrict its hunt for rubes to whatever the Chinese government allows?

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has said it will not allow its technology to be used for targeting or identifying specific ethnic groups.

The statement follows reports that the company’s content moderation technology can pick out Uighur minorities.

Alibaba said it was “dismayed’ that Alibaba Cloud developed facial technology that includes ethnicity as an attribute for tagging video imagery.

“We have eliminated any ethnic tag in our product offering,” Alibaba said.

Fantastic. That’s a relief. Alibaba won’t help the government target Uighurs for government persecution, at least as far as its statement aimed at non-Uighurs asserts. But does this mean anything? Security researchers say Alibaba tools/algorithms already give the government the go-ahead to target Uighurs for additional oppression. A public statement may distance Alibaba from government oppression, but the fact that Alibaba continues to operate without interference in China suggests the Chinese government can get what it needs even if the online commerce site says it won’t do it for all the tea its government is currently taxing.

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Filed Under: censorship, china, facial recognition, oppression, persecution, uighurCompanies: alibaba