Facing international outcry over its testing of a “Uighur alarm” system, Huawei said it is committed to human rights “at the highest level.” But the tech giant has worked with others to build products touted as capable of identifying ethnicity.
Huawei has worked with dozens of security contractors to develop surveillance products, some of which were touted as able to identify a person’s ethnicity or to help suppress potential protests, according to company marketing documents that shed light on a little-publicized corner of one of China’s most valuable tech empires.
The revelation this week of Huawei’s role in testing artificial-intelligence surveillance technology — including a face-scanning camera system that could send a “Uighur alarm” to police if it detected a member of the minority group — has sparked an international backlash against the tech giant — including from a French soccer star who publicly ended his work as a Huawei “brand ambassador” and urged the company to “condemn this mass repression.”
Huawei representatives said the document outlining the “Uighur alarm” system, discovered on the company’s website by the research organization IPVM and first reported by The Washington Post, used language that is “completely unacceptable.” “It is not compatible with the values of Huawei,” a representative told the BBC. “Our technologies are not designed to identify ethnic groups.”
Yet products made by Huawei with four other partner companies were also advertised to have ethnicity-tracking capabilities, according to marketing materials posted on a public Huawei website where the material could be downloaded by anyone who registered an account. After The Post approached Huawei for comment, the site briefly became inaccessible. When it returned, the number of product collaborations detailed there had dropped from more than 2,000 to 38.
“We take the allegations in the Washington Post’s article very seriously and are investigating the issues raised within,” a Huawei spokesperson said in a statement to The Post.
“We provide general-purpose ICT [information and communications technology] products based on recognized industry standards. We do not develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group, and we do not condone the use of our technologies to discriminate against or oppress members of any community.”