2020 vision: Biometric technology in China

Carolyn Bigg

Contrary to reports, Chinese consumers are embracing the convenience of biometric technology, says Adv. Carolyn Bigg, providing big opportunities for Israeli companies.

During a normal working day individuals in China will routinely encounter biometric technology, whether through using "pay by face" technology to buy their lunch at a fast food restaurant, or to access public toilets; using fingerprint technology to access their workplace or pay their bills; or adhering to green lights at pedestrian crossings to avoid a jaywalking fine being automatically deducted from their e-wallet via facial recognition cameras.

The introduction last month of mandatory face scans for new mobile phone users in China provoked a strong reaction in parts of the international media. It is true that the above scenario would be inconceivable to Europeans, with their long heritage of personal privacy rights now enshrined in the onerous General Data Protection Regulation. However, these accounts did not recognise differing attitudes to biometric technology around the world.

The new rules barely raised an eyebrow amongst Chinese citizens. In China, a young, digital population, with a culture focused on family and community rather than personal privacy, crave the convenience and tailored service offered by facial and fingerprint technology via their mobile devices.

Like in Israel, there is a robust legal framework in China to prevent leaks or exploitation of data collected via biometric technology. Organisations collecting biometric data must clearly explain to individuals what data they collect; how and why it is collected, stored and used; and with whom they may share it. They must also obtain explicit consent from individuals before they first collect the biometric data. Individuals can withdraw their consent at any time. A privacy impact assessment is required to ensure organisations can justify why it is necessary and not excessive to collect the biometric data, to specify a reasonable period for retaining the data, and to ensure appropriate security measures are deployed to protect the data.

Deployment of biometric technology is not accepted unquestioningly by Chinese consumers. Individuals can - and do - complain to the authorities where the laws are not complied with. A university in China was forced to remove campus-wide facial recognition cameras deemed to be overly intrusive and use of such cameras in schools has also been curbed.

Acceptance of biometric technology in daily life is not limited to China. The development of smart cities in countries across Asia will rely heavily on biometric recognition technologies and AI. Local authorities from South America, Eastern Europe and Africa have reportedly purchased Chinese biometric technology for transport, crowd management and public security projects. The private sector (notably in the transport and sports sectors) are increasingly deploying facial recognition technology. The keen price point of the technology solutions offered by Chinese companies means this trend may well now spread across the developing world.

So what can Israeli businesses learn from the China experience? There are opportunities across Asia, Africa, South America and beyond for Israeli technology companies offering biometric solutions to the public sector and to enhance consumer experience and service in the private sector. The key is transparency and compliance.

Adv. Carolyn Bigg, partner at DLA Piper Hong Kong, is a data protection, data retention and data security law expert across the Asia Pacific region.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 8, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Carolyn Bigg
Carolyn Bigg
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