Chinese City Uses Facial Recognition to Shame Pajama Wearers

Going out in pajamas for a small walk, we have all do it. This is a very common activity, but the urban management department of Suzhou of China thinks that its a sign of the uncivilized behavior of a citizen.

In order to shame its citizens for wearing pajamas in public, the Suzhou City Management Bureau published images of 7 citizens out and about in their PJs on its WeChat account, as per Chinese publication The Paper.

The publically disclosed information includes the surveillance photos taken by street cameras along with their names, government id numbers and the locations where their “uncivilized behavior” had taken place.

On social media, the Suzhou department publicly called out, among others, a Ms. Dong, a young woman in a plush pink robe, matching pants and orange pointy flats, walking on a street, and a Mr. Niu, who was singled out for donning a black-and-white-checkered full pajama suit in a mall.

The images of these citizens were captured using AI-powered CCTV cameras that are able to recognize faces and link them to the names of citizens. There are hundreds of millions of such facial recognition-equipped cameras around China it’s been estimated that over 600 million will be in operation by the end of this year.

Wearing pajamas in public is pretty normal for people in China. However, the city condones people who follow this trend. The Officials said that they were entering a national “civilized city” competition and that residents were banned from wearing pajamas in public and releasing out their details is one of there punishment.

The post shamed 15 people in total, for activities including playing cards and lying down in public, according to the newspaper. Suzhou is no small town: It has population of 10.7 million citizens.

Uncivilized behavior refers to when people behave and act in ways that violate public order because they lack public morals,” read a post on WeChat, a common social messaging app, which has since been deleted.

Many people think that this is a small problem and not a big deal, the post said. Others believe public places are truly public, where there is no blame, no supervision, and no public pressure. This has brought about a kind of complacent, undisciplined mindset, it concluded.

The Shanghai government in July also established a team of 500 volunteers to use persuasion at such venues as bus stops to get residents looking “uncivilized” to change their clothes.

Later, the city officials “sincerely apologized” when people responded to this breach of privacy with anger.

This apology doesn’t mean that officials won’t post photos of people adopting any uncivilized behavior. In the future, they will only blur the pictures before posting them on social media.

“Facial recognition technology, if it is to be used at all, should only be used if there are a legitimate aim and purpose, and if there are safeguards around privacy and data collection,”  said William Nee to CNET. “Shaming people for wearing pajamas is not a legitimate aim, but a total misuse of the technology.”

“While this can seem like just a cute story, it actually lays bare some of the most profound risks to human rights posed by facial recognition technology. It should be a wake-up call to reexamine and debate whether we want to live in societies armed with this sort of powerful surveillance capabilities on every corner.”

“Shanghainese have a delicate lifestyle that includes changing to pajamas once they get home. In other cities, they don’t think it is necessary to do that,” says Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University. “When cooking and suddenly realizing more spring onions are needed for dinner, they just hurry to market.”

It’s not the first time Chinese officials used the power of AI-equipped CCTV cameras to embarrass citizens. In Shenzhen, the local government used the technology to put the face and names of jaywalkers on a digital billboard. But the surveillance tech has more insidious uses: Like tracking China’s 11 million Uighur Muslims.

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