Huawei files Uyghur-spotting system patent application

Occurred: January 2021

A patent application filed by Huawei that sets out a system that identifies people who appear to be Uyghurs amongst images of pedestrians sparked accusations of ethnic surveillance and poor ethics.

Discovered by video research group IPVM, the patent (pdf) describes AI techniques for identifying pedestrians by attributes including race. The patent was filed by controversial Chinese technology company Huawei in conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2018.

Huawei said the Uyghur detection capability 'should never have become part of the application' and that it is 'taking proactive steps to amend' it. 

IPVM also revealed patents for systems capable of recognising Uyghurs filed by Chinese AI companies Megvii and SenseTime.

Developer: Huawei; Chinese Academy of Sciences
Country: China
Sector: Govt - police
Purpose: Detect Uyghurs
Technology: Object recognition
Issue: Surveillance; Privacy
Transparency: Governance; Privacy