Is Huawei involved in the persecution of the Uighurs in China? According to an internal document, the company, together with an artificial intelligence specialist, is said to have tested a system that allowed members of the predominantly Muslim minority to be identified on video footage.
The Chinese government has long been criticized for taking active steps against a minority in its own country, with at least one million Uighur people reportedly being placed in a network of detention camps since 2017. Time and again China denied the existence of such camps.
According to the Washington Post, in cooperation with the research organization IPVM, Huawei and facial recognition specialists Megvii have apparently been involved in the systematic surveillance of Uighurs living in China. This is the first indication that Huawei is actively participating in such a development.
Internal documents allow insight into the details of the system. IPVM had discovered them on a publicly accessible server of Huawei. After the Washington Post and IPVM asked for comments, the project documents disappeared from Huawei's website.
The documents showed that an artificial intelligence camera system was being tested that could automatically analyze faces in a crowd. It was able to estimate not only the age and sex, but also their ethnicity of the recorded people. If a person analysed was identified as belonging to the mostly Muslim minority, it was apparently able to notify the police.
Huawei is said to have provided "servers, cameras, cloud infrastructure and other tools" for the system, according to the report. Both Megvii and Huawei confirmed the authenticity of the document, according to the Post.
Huawei: it was "simply a test"
Huawei spokesman Glenn Schloss told the Washington Post after the report was published that the feature had been implemented for testing purposes only. The "Uighur Alarm" is "simply a test and it has not seen real-world application," he said, adding that "Huawei only supplies general-purpose products for this kind of testing. We do not provide custom algorithms or applications." A spokesperson for Megvii said that the company's systems are not designed to target or label ethnic groups.