The online sales and technology company Alibaba has been offering facial recognition services to its customers to detect members of the ethnic minority Uyghur group in China, a report says.
Human rights groups have repeatedly reported that the Uyghurs have been subjected to mass incarceration in “re-education” camps in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
A report on IPVM, a leading authority on video surveillance, said Alibaba “openly offers Uyghur/’ethnic minority’ recognition as a Cloud service.”
The report said the service allows customers to be alerted any time Alibaba detects a Uyghur.
“This means Uyghur recognition goes beyond China police usage to the country’s Internet as the [People’s Republic of China] government cracks down on the repressed minority,” read the report.
It added that Alibaba Cloud “quickly deleted mentions of Uyghurs and minority detection on its website after Alibaba was contacted for comment.”
Alibaba Cloud claimed that the features were only used “within a testing environment.”
Earlier this month, IPVM and The Washington Post reported that Chinese tech giants Huawei and Megvii had also tested and validated “Uyghur alarms” as part of facial recognition software intended to be used by police.
Alibaba Cloud, also known as Aliyun, claims three million customers around the world, and is China’s largest cloud service.
The reference to Uyghur facial recognition was part of Alibaba’s “Cloud Shield” solution, which offers clients the ability to detects and recognize text, pictures, videos, and voices containing pornography, politics, terrorism, advertisements, and spam.
Earlier reports said China’s communist government has been trying to control the birth rates among Uyghurs and other ethnic groups as part of a campaign to curb minority Muslim populations.
A Jamestown Foundation report noted in June what it described as “another troubling aspect of state policy,” which is the suppression of birth rates among ethnic Uyghur communities.
The report said the move included the mass application of mandatory birth control and sterilizations directed by the authorities of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
It said that the project aims “to reduce the Uyghur population in Xinjiang relative to the numbers of ethnic Han Chinese, and … to promote more rapid Uyghur assimilation.”
In a new book “Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future,” Pope Francis last month said he often thinks of “persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uyghurs, the Yazidi.”
It was the first time the pope has publicly called China’s Uyghurs a persecuted people, something human rights activists have been urging him to do for years.
While the pope has spoken out before about the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar and the killing of Yazidi by Islamic State in Iraq, it was the first time he has mentioned the Uyghurs.
The pope’s mentioning of the persecuted Uyghurs was welcomed by human rights activists and China watchers but more than one noted how long it took for something to be said.
Watch this IPVM video about how Alibaba offers Uyghur recognition as a service: