Dec 1, 2017

The most impressive surveillance state in history

Police surveillance cameras set up to monitor a dirt road intersection in western China. Photo: Ng Han Guan / AP

China's embrace of big data and surveillance technologies has the country well on its way to creating the most impressive surveillance state in history.

Why it's happening: The Chinese Communist Party needs help from private sector firms, and those firms in turn need to stay in political good graces to be successful.

Behind the scenes: The Wall Street Journal just published a months-long report on the role internet giants Alibaba and Tencent play in helping build the PRC panopticon. Much of these efforts can be used to improve governance and efficiency, but the dual-use potential for a police state increasingly resembles the movie "Minority Report." Per the WSJ:

  • "The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data," Alibaba CEO Jack Ma told a Communist Party commission overseeing law enforcement last year. He said technology will soon make it possible to predict security threats. "Bad guys won't even be able to walk into the square," he said.
  • Alibaba's "big data" systems are behind a "smart city" initiative that ties together data from multiple inputs, including ubiquitous surveillance cameras. 100 smart-city trials are planned by the end of 2018.
  • Tencent, operator of WeChat, is working with local police to build an "early-warning system" that can track and predict crowd-size and movement.

More: U.S.-listed Alibaba is an investor in Chinese facial-recognition startups Megvii Inc and SenseTime.

Go deeper

HBCUs are missing from the discussion on venture capital's diversity

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Venture capital is beginning a belated conversation about its dearth of black investors and support of black founders, but hasn't yet turned its attention to the trivial participation of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as limited partners in funds.

Why it matters: This increases educational and economic inequality, as the vast majority of VC profits go to limited partners.

Unemployment rate falls to 13.3% in May

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 13.3% in May, with 2.5 million jobs gained, the government said on Friday.

Why it matters: The far better-than-expected numbers show a surprising improvement in the job market, which has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The difficulty of calculating the real unemployment rate

Data: U.S. Department of Labor; Note: Initial traditional state claims from the weeks of May 23 and 30, continuing traditional claims from May 23. Initial PUA claims from May 16, 23, and 30, continuing PUA and other programs from May 16; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The shocking May jobs report — with a decline in the unemployment rate to 13.3% and more than 2 million jobs added — destroyed expectations of a much worse economic picture.

Why it matters: Traditional economic reports have failed to keep up with the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and have made it nearly impossible for researchers to determine the state of the U.S. labor market or the economy.