Dongguan city has suspended its use of facial recognition in public restrooms. The city had been using facial recognition to limit the amount of toilet paper that visitors could take during each trip to the bathroom, but has decided to put the program on hold due to growing privacy concerns and pushback from the local population.
Dongguan city is not the only jurisdiction exploring the use of facial recognition in public restrooms. The face-based toilet paper dispensers first appeared at the Temple of Heaven Park tourist attraction in Beijing all the way back in 2017, before making their way to the Shamian Island tourist spot in Gaungzhou in 2019. The cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen have also indicated that they are planning to bring smart technology to public restrooms on a wider scale.
According to Dongguan authorities, the toilet paper dispensers are not connected to a larger network, and any images captured are deleted after a set amount of time. Facial recognition is used to make sure that the same person doesn’t come back to take more toilet paper, at least until the system decides that enough time has passed for it to count as a separate visit.
However, those assurances were not enough to placate Chinese citizens. In addition to the privacy concerns, many people were worried that the toilet paper ration was not enough for people who need to do their business.
“The toilet paper it offers is not enough for me,” wrote one Weibo user. “But when the system detected my face for the second time, it told me I had already used it and to wait patiently [before taking more toilet paper]. For people who are in a rush to the toilet, they could pee their pants while waiting.”
The opposition to facial recognition in China has grown due to the high number of data breaches, which have made personal data like national ID numbers, addresses, and facial images more readily available to cybercriminals. Those security issues have not slowed the expansion of facial recognition systems, though they have prompted the Chinese government to begin drafting a new data protection law.
Dongguan city is located in Guangdon province. The decision to suspend the toilet paper program was made by the Urban Management and Law Enforcement Bureau.
Source: South China Morning Post
December 7, 2020 – by Eric Weiss