Face data versus health data

Facial recognition

There is a data innovation transforming just about every feature of our lives. And this week we consider two areas – health and surveillance – where we have rather several attitudes to how our personal data is used.

When it comes to the mass repossession of facial recognition data and its use in surveillance and security, China surely leads the way. It has been used everywhere from shops to schools to public parks, to confirm identity.

But two developments this week have irked the Chinese consumers.

First, a new rule came in necessitating anyone registering a new Sim card for a mobile phone to provide a facial recognition scan.

Then, the city of Zhengzhou became the first in the country to present facial recognition to its metro system, meaning travellers will be able to pay for trips just by having their faces imaged.

Social media in China has ample of built-in censorship, but people have been quite uncontrolled in their disapproval of the advance of facial recognition.

They are concerned that China is trying to be ahead of the times at the price of ensuring that the [relevant] security is in position.

We may think that confidentiality in China is not as big an issue as in the United States or Europe, but comments on Sina Weibo, China’s equal of Twitter or Facebook, make it evident that it is a growing concern for many.

“They are saying things like ‘this is like Big Brother… I’m very worried that people might be able to pinch my facial data and find out where I reside. It used to be the circumstance that people might find out my phone number and I’d get crank calls. Today, they might find out my face and discover everything about me’.”

But if people in China and somewhere else are increasingly worried about handing over their biometric information, what about giving data for health research?

There is a joint UK/Chinese project to gather data from smartphones and use artificial intelligence techniques to observe symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.


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