The U.S. Rubber-Stamps Facial Recognition Systems Used to Round Up Uighurs in China

National Institute of Standards and Technology’s facial recognition audits are used for marketing purposes in China

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
4 min readJun 25, 2020

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A woman walks below surveillance cameras in Akto, south of Kashgar, in China’s western Xinjiang region on June 4, 2019. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

Pegged as one of tech’s ultimate “disruptors” in 2019 by CNBC, Yitu Technology is a surveillance giant in China. The company has raised $400 million in venture funding, including from American VC firm Sequoia Capital, and has installed its facial recognition technology in 1,500 Chinese banks.

Yitu is also involved in more controversial facial recognition implementations. The company built a feature into its facial recognition software that was specifically meant to detect Uighurs, China’s persecuted Muslim ethnic minority. As a result, the company has landed on the U.S. government’s “entity list,” which means Yitu cannot buy products from U.S. companies without a special permit.

At the same time, Yitu’s marketing materials boast of a glowing evaluation from the U.S. government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which independently tests facial recognition algorithms for accuracy. Yitu Technology has pointed to its NIST scores for years. “YITU wins the world championship,” the company’s website says, linking to a press release about the…

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Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.