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China implements mandatory face scans for mobile phone users, report says

The new mandate went into effect on Sunday.


Registering a phone number in China just got very personal. 

James Martin/CNET

Chinese telecom operators are now reportedly required to scan the faces of people registering new phones. The mandatory "portrait matching," which officially began Sunday, means customers have to record themselves turning their head and blinking if they want to register for a new phone number. The mandate is part of China's plan to tighten cyberspace controls and crack down on fraud. 

A notice about the change from the country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology went out in September, according to a Sunday report from AFP. The notice, obtained by AFP, said that telecom operators should use "artificial intelligence and other technical means" to verify a person's identity when they get a new number. In addition, the notice said the ministry will continue to "increase supervision and inspection." 

China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile, the country's three largest carriers, are state-owned. It's not known at this time how the law will apply to existing accounts, according to Reuters. 

Facial recognition has been gaining momentum in China. The country is home to Megvii and SenseTime, two of the world's leading facial recognition companies. Supermarkets, subway systems and airports already use facial recognition technology. Alibaba, an online e-commerce company, lets people pay with their face in some locations, according to Reuters. 

By 2020, China plans to give all of its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score, based on behavior, using facial recognition, artificial intelligence, smart glasses and other technologies to monitor and rate its citizens -- a plan that's raised numerous privacy concerns among US officials.

The Chinese Embassy didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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