China Is Using Facial Recognition Technology To Monitor Its People

Published on December 6, 2018

It knows if you’ve been bad or good.

China is implementing facial recognition technology in its schools and around public spaces, according to reports translated by What’s On Weibo. It’s state news agency also published a report earlier this year that it had successfully used the same type of facial recognition software to catch a crime suspect in a crowd of people. The man was wanted for “a connection to an  economic dispute” in an autonomous region of the country, and was caught at a concert in a crowd of more than 60,000 people.

In The Classroom

China’s schools are implementing facial recognition technology to keep tabs on whether or not students are paying attention. The technology monitors facial expressions on students while in the classroom. It can read whether or not a student is engaged in the classroom or dozing off. Once the facial recognition technology tracks a certain percentage of negative facial expressions from one student, it can alert the teacher that the student isn’t engaged in the classroom activity. The results from the reports are then sent to the students parents to let them know whether or not their child is paying enough attention in their studies.

The facial recognition system can also do a roll call to make sure that the student is present. The facial recognition software isn’t just there to monitor the students, though. The technology can also monitor the teachers performance based on the reactions that the students are giving. This gives parents a way to monitor whether or not their students are learning well from their teachers.

It may seem a bit totalitarian. But students have said that they feel the facial recognition technology has actually helped them become better students. Some Chinese citizens have criticized the system, though, saying that surveillance of this level is not helping people, rather than monitoring them. As technology gets better, surveillance has become more and more common in the far-eastern country of China.

Other Uses

In cities like Shenzen, facial recognition softwares are being used to identify jaywalkers in major intersections. When the software catches video of the offenders, it can stream it onto the large screens in the city center for everyone to see. This sort of public shaming is all too common in China. The country has also recently implemented a public point system. Its citizens can be scored on their social media profiles based on their behavior and public interactions. Citizens that fall too low on the scoreboard can be banned from things like plane and train travel. This makes it hard to leave the country if your score is too low.

The system, called Social Credit, also ties into the mass surveillance happening in China’s major cities. Facial recognition can determine whether you’ve committed a crime and report it to your social credit score. Your actions can both boost or damage your score, depending on what you do. Things like interacting with local economies can help boost your social score.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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