Dec 10, 2020 - World

Soccer star Griezmann ends partnership with Huawei over Uighur surveillance allegations

This combination of files pictures created shows France's forward Antoine Griezmann (L) and the logo of Chinese company Huawei in London on July 14, 2020. -
This combination of files pictures shows Antoine Griezmann and the Huawei logo. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrandn and Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

Soccer star Antoine Griezmann said Thursday he has ended his sponsorship deal with Huawei, citing "strong suspicions" that the Chinese tech giant had tested software aimed at helping the Chinese government's surveillance of Uighur Muslims.

Driving the news: U.S.-based research organization IPVM on Tuesday alleged that Huawei tested facial recognition software that can alert police when it recognizes Uighur minorities. The Washington Post first reported the allegations.

  • IPVM said it found a Huawei "interoperability test report" that showed the company worked with startup Megvii in 2018 to test artificial intelligence software that could trigger an "Uighur alarm" when it detected the face of a member of the minority group.

What he's saying: “Following strong suspicions that the Huawei company has contributed to the development of a ‘Uighur alert’ thanks to facial recognition software, I am announcing the immediate termination of my partnership with the company,” Griezmann said on Instagram.

  • “I take this opportunity to invite Huawei to not just deny these accusations, but to take concrete actions as quickly as possible to condemn this mass repression, and to use its influence to contribute to the respect of human and women’s rights in society,” the Barcelona forward and member of the French national team added.
  • Griezmann served as a brand ambassador for Huawei since 2017 and appeared in several ads for the company's products, per the BBC.

Huawei did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment, but a company spokesperson told the Post on Tuesday that the report “is simply a test and it has not seen real-world application. Huawei only supplies general-purpose products for this kind of testing. We do not provide custom algorithms or applications."

  • A Huawei spokesperson told the BBC on Thursday that its "technologies are not designed to identify ethnic groups. Non-discrimination is at the heart of our values as a company."
  • The spokesperson added the company is "saddened" by Griezmann's decision.

The big picture: China has faced global backlash for its brutal crackdown in the northwest region of Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities are subject to surveillance, torture and detention in mass "re-education" camps.

  • The Chinese foreign ministry told CNBC the IPVM report was "slander," and said the "legal use of facial recognition in public areas in some parts of China is to improve social management, effectively prevent and attack criminal acts. ... And the measures are not targeting any particular ethnic groups.”

Go deeper: More countries join condemnation of China over Xinjiang abuses

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