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Leaked documents show Chinese businesses are shaping UN facial recognition standards

A illustration of facial recognition software.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The United Nations' standards for facial recognition, video monitoring, and city and vehicle surveillance are being shaped by Chinese tech groups including ZTE, Dahua and China Telecom, according to leaked documents reported by the Financial Times.

Why it matters: Companies that help shape standards are able to craft regulations to fit their own goals and specifications. Developing countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where China has sought to grow its influence through the Belt and Road Initiative, often adopt standards developed by the UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as policy, according to the FT.

  • The FT also notes that facial recognition data from African markets is valued by Chinese companies who are seeking to improve their algorithms, especially for people of color.
  • The Chinese government views shaping standards as a means of furthering its AI leadership ambitions.

Between the lines: Developing widely used standards could promote social acceptance of facial recognition and other AI-driven technologies. However, human rights lawyers argue standards being proposed by the ITU do not do enough to protect consumer privacy and data.

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