China’s facial recognition rollout reaches into mobile phones, shops and homes

China has put into effect new regulations that require Chinese telecom carriers to scan the faces of users registering new mobile phone services, a move the government says is aimed at cracking down on fraud. The rules, first announced in September, mean millions more people will come under the purview of facial recognition technology in China.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) did not say which companies will provide the telecoms providers with these services but China is home to some of the world’s leaders in facial recognition software, including Megvii and SenseTime. China’s telecom operators must now use facial recognition technology and other means to verify the identity of people opening new mobile phone Accounts.

China’s three largest carriers are state-owned China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile. It was unclear how the law applies to existing mobile accounts. Supermarkets, subway systems and airports already use facial recognition technology. Alibaba gives customers the option to pay using their face at its Hema supermarket chain and runs a hotel in its headquarters city of Hangzhou where guests can scan their face with their smartphones for advance check-in.

The metro systems of some major Chinese cities have announced they will use the technology, with government-owned newspaper China Daily saying Beijing will use it to “classify passengers” to allow for “different security check measures”. In July, the Xinhua news agency said Beijing had, or was in the process of installing facial recognition systems at the entrances of 59 public rental housing communities.

Surveillance technologies have encountered little public opposition, but there has been some mostly anonymous debate on social media platforms like Weibo. Some users argue that it is needed to combat fraud, like scam calls, but others have voiced concerns about its implications for personal data, privacy and ethics.