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Chinese officials are using smart devices for surveillance

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Smart home devices and other connected tools offer a range of ways to gather data about individuals. And governments at various levels, particularly in China, are starting to use these types of devices to monitor public services to ensure that they’re being used as intended.

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Though these new practices utilizing connected devices can provide critical data through surveillance, they also raise privacy concerns that could limit their use in certain countries.

Here are two examples of how Chinese authorities are using smart technology for surveillance:

  • Schools in China’s Guizhou Province are tracking students through connected uniforms, according to The Verge. The uniforms include a pair of chips built into the shoulders that track when students arrive and leave school, and they can set off alarms if students attempt to exit the premises during school hours. They also track if students fall asleep during class and can be combined with fingerprints or facial recognition technology to enable payments. Additionally, it appears officials can track students’ locations while they’re wearing the uniforms outside of school, though they claim they don’t.
  • Officials in Beijing are using smart locks connected to facial recognition systems in public housing, according to Engadget. The aim of the smart locks is to improve security in the housing system by only allowing access to recognized tenants, while also cracking down on practices such as illegal subletting. They also track when particular residents enter and leave the premises, which management can monitor to check in on elderly residents who haven’t left their apartments in some time. But such a system gives them comprehensive logs of entry and exit, while potentially restricting the ability to bring in guests. Housing authorities plan to have the smart locks installed in all of the city’s public housing projects — which house over 120,000 tenants — by the end of June.

Though these connected devices offer tantalizing data for governments and corporate partners to use, they’ll have to gauge that utility against privacy concerns. This balancing act will differ based on location; consumers in China will likely have a different tolerance for the widespread use of facial recognition software than those in the US, for instance.

So, a company like AT&T, which is planning to use its forthcoming 5G networks to support what it terms “Surveillance-as-a-Service,” according to president of IoT solutions Chris Penrose, will need limit the scope of its projects in the US to what’s palatable to consumers and won’t hurt its wider consumer-facing brand.

Companies such as Huawei that are partnering with cities in China, on the other hand, don’t necessarily face the same concerns, potentially paving the way for more lucrative smart city contracts and more impactful insights for the networking provider as well as its government customers.

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