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Chinese facial recognition system mistakes a face on a bus for a jaywalker

Chinese facial recognition system mistakes a face on a bus for a jaywalker

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

China’s facial recognition systems are used to catch all types of criminals, from thieves to jaywalkers, in real time. This week, one facial recognition camera publicly shamed a famous business woman for jaywalking after its systems caught her face crossing an intersection. The problem? She was never physically there.

As first reported by Abacus, it all took place in the Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai. The face of Dong Mingzhu, a president of China’s top air-conditioning company, flashed on a large screen displayed to the public listing nearby jaywalkers caught by cameras. A line of text captioned her photo, saying she had broken the law. It also listed part of her government ID number and her name, but misidentified her surname as “Ju.”

Image: Weibo

But what the camera actually saw was an ad featuring Dong’s face on the side of a bus. Local police soon admitted in a statement on microblogging site Weibo that identifying Dong as a jaywalker was an error made by the facial recognition system, and claimed that the problem had now been fixed by an upgrade.

Dong Mingzhu made first place on the Forbes list of the top 100 outstanding businesswomen in China last year and has made headlines for having never taken a day off in 26 years, at the cost of her personal life. A photo of the display screen has gone viral on Weibo, as people pointed out that despite the hype surrounding facial recognition, it turned out the system could still make mistakes. “Be careful of being sued by Dong Mingzhu,” one netizen mocked.

Chinese traffic police have increasingly relied on facial recognition systems to catch those who violate the rules. The systems have come to major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, and have captured tens of thousands of jaywalkers since installation. Officials have also talked to WeChat and Weibo about potentially fining offenders via text messages. While the systems are often a talking point for officials discussing their accomplishments and work to bring down crime, but as this incident proves, the systems still aren’t infallible.