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The Rise of Facial Recognition in China’s Real Estate Market

Some homebuyers counter the rise of facial recognition technology in real estate offices by wearing helmets during their visit.

Manya Koetse

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The issue of Chinese real estate agents using facial recognition techniques to collect information about their clients has sparked privacy concerns among Chinese social media users.

 
– By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Bobby Fung
 

A recent news report by Southern Metropolis Daily exposes how more and more real estate offices in China are working with facial recognition technologies to collect personal information about their prospective clients.

This is not the first time that the widespread use of facial-recognition techniques in the real estate industry receives attention in Chinese media. In 2019, some blogs already raised concerns over the use of such techniques and the negative impact it could have on homebuyers.

But why would the real estate industry benefit from buying expensive face recognition systems?

One reason is that these AI techniques could earn those within the industry a lot of money while reducing time-consuming conflicts over commission fees.

Using facial recognition within the real estate industry solves existing problems regarding the practice of commissions and splits in compensation, as the techniques can register when, where, and how often a certain client visited, and through which channels the eventual property purchase was made.

Besides the fact that the registration of biometric information violates the privacy of visitors, it could also mean they, as homebuyers, are losing out on big money. First-time visitors, not yet registered by the smart facial recognition cameras, can get much higher discounts.

The report by Southern Metropolis Daily claims that homebuyers could end up paying up to 300,000 yuan ($45,560) more when buying property if their face was previously recorded.

This is, among others, because agencies make a distinction between homebuyers who first come to view a property following a real estate agent’s own marketing campaign (a ‘natural visitor’ 自然到访客户) and those who have come through an intermediary (‘渠道客户’). In the latter case, the company also has to pay a commission fee to the intermediary.

This system has led to some potential homebuyers wearing helmets when visiting a real estate agency. Images of a certain ‘Brother Helmet’ (头盔哥) viewing property previously attracted attention online.

One of the companies that is mentioned by Southern Metropolis Daily as providing this kind of smart camera systems to companies is the Shenzhen-based Myunke (Mingyuan Yunke 明源云客), an internet company focusing on the “intelligent transformation and upgrading” of real estate marketing.

On Weibo, dozens of commenters suggest that the use of these techniques in China’s real estate industry is already widespread, with some sharing their own experiences as homebuyers and others saying: “I work in this industry, and it’s true.”

“Where’s our privacy?! This is too scary!”, others write, with some saying that the root of the problem lies in China’s “overly lax privacy protection.”

The ubiquity of commercial use of facial recognition has been attracting more attention recently amid rising privacy concerns.

One example is the use of built-in smart cameras by digital advertisement billboards, which measure customers’ reactions to advertisements. These digital billboard record, for example, if people look at the advertisement, how long they stay interested, and if they are male or female.

Earlier this week, a court in Hangzhou ordered a local wildlife park to delete the facial recognition data of one of its patrons, saying it was “unnecessary” and “lacked legitimacy.” An associate law professor at Zhejiang Sci-tech University named Guo Bing sued the safari park in 2019 for using mandatory facial recognition systems to register him and his wife as park visitors.

As reported by Sixth Tone, Guo decided to file this lawsuit on the grounds that the park had violated China’s consumer rights protection law by collecting sensitive personal information without the permission of its patrons.

In light of the heightened concerns around privacy and commercial use of facial recognition, a draft law to ban facial recognition systems in residential communities was recently submitted to the local legislation department in Hangzhou. This move may signal a stricter overview or even ban of mandatory collection of facial scans in residential areas.

Whether or not the use of facial recognition systems in real estate sales will be curbed any time soon is unclear. Some experts have pointed out, however, that the necessity and legitimacy of employing such techniques – which only protect the interests of the company and not the interest nor rights of the clients – is highly questionable.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    Olivier

    December 20, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    Very interesting trends.
    We see from our clients, that more and more real estate companies offer VR experience to their client for oversea real estate.
    basically you can visit the flat you want to purchase oversea with VR glass and see what it looks like. (with the sanitary situation, Chinese can not travel to invest oversea)

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China Digital

“I Decided Not To Learn English Anymore” Video Goes Viral on Chinese Social Media

“The ‘not learning English anymore’ part actually means she is no longer pursuing the cultural identity behind the language.”

Manya Koetse

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A video in which a Chinese Harvard student shares how she wants to “stop trying to learn English” has gone viral on Chinese social media. While some blame the student for flaunting her privilege, others said the video actually inspires them to study more English.

“Today is September 1st, 2022. The 20th anniversary of me learning English. And I finally decided not to learn it anymore.” This is the beginning of a 7-minute video posted on social media by the Chinese vlogger ‘Tatala’ (@他塔拉).

The video, which Tatala says was submitted as an assignment for a Harvard course on Language & Equality, received over 122,000 likes and the hashtag “When You Decide Not to Learn English Anymore” (#当你决定以后不学英语#) garnered over 110 million views on Weibo over the past few days.

Although the 24-year-old vlogger is critical of how she is perceived as a Chinese non-native English speaker – claiming she will ‘stop trying’ to learn the language, – she is receiving a lot of backlash from netizens who say she is unaware of her own privilege.

In the video, Tatala says she has always been a good student of English, but that she has never been satisfied throughout her language-learning journey. In the video, she gives multiple examples of how her confidence was affected during the process of studying English.

 

“I have my name, in my language, that you didn’t even try to enunciate.”

 

In primary school, Tatala says, her American teacher randomly gave her the name ‘Wency’, which she found hard to pronounce due to the northern Chinese dialect she grew up speaking. She ended up pronouncing ‘Wency’ as ‘Vency’, after which her teacher corrected her again and again: “You are not Vency. You are Wency!” Tatala says: “But he never realized that I was not even Wency. I have my name, in my language, that you didn’t even try to enunciate.”

In middle school, Tatala continued to get high grades in English and she traveled to Britain where she was invited for brunch by a friend, who asked if she preferred ham or turkey. When Tatala asked her friend “what’s the difference?”, she was laughed at by her friend and their mum, who then proceeded to explain the difference between a pig saying ‘oink oink’ and a turkey saying ‘clunk clunk.’ Tatala explains: “I just didn’t know the vocabulary. It’s not that I’m too stupid to recognize animals.”

Although Tatala says her confidence in speaking English peaked during high school, it vanished once she became an international student in Australia, where she had great difficulties understanding what local people were talking about. When she struggled to comprehend English-language works by authors such as Bourdieu or Butler, she worked harder and got high grades, but she was still not satisfied and started dreading her studies.

Tatala then explains: “I realized something went wrong when I took a course called ‘Women in Chinese Literature’ where all the readings were translated from Chinese to English. I read the Chinese version – three chapters per hour – and my Australian classmates read the English version – one chapter a day. Some of them reported the course being too hard and some dropped out, because they did not understand the context behind the words. But that’s what I felt for every single class here.”

 

“Even if I am just not perfect at English, so what? This is my second language.”

 

Tatala’s ‘light bulb’ moment was when she realized that it was not necessarily her level of English that determined how difficult or easy her life was, but so many other factors relating to language: “Native speakers found their lives easier not because their English is better than mine, it is because they had the ‘good fortune’ to be raised in environments where their native language acquisition coincides with the dominant linguistic group,” Tatala says, explaining that she blamed everything on language alone while the barriers she faced also had to do with her own confidence level, communication skills, and the prejudices of others.

Tatala suggests that when someone feels attacked on how they use language, they might feel attacked as a person since their language is also a part of their identity. At the same time, people also judge others and draw conclusions about their background, personality, or intentions solely based on language knowledge, dialect, or how they use a single word.

Tatala’s conclusion is that her use of English is not a result of her not speaking “perfect English” but just a “plurality of [her] identity.” Although she mentions she got into Harvard, she says she is determined to “stop learning English” and to just use language as a “tool” instead.

She says: “Even if I am just not perfect at English, so what? This is my second language. This is the lingua franca I was pushed to learn. No matter how well or how bad I speak English, I will have my voice. Ethic minority, Chinese, Asian, I will have my serpent’s tongue, my woman’s voice, my international student’s voice, my influencer’s voice – I will overcome the tradition of silence.”

Tatala’s video triggered online discussions on Weibo on learning English, but perhaps in a different way than Tatala might have expected it to.

Since Tatala’s English level is so high, and she is an Ivy League student, many people do not relate to the struggles she encountered when speaking English at her level. On the contrary, many just hope to reach such a level of English that they would be able to face these kinds of struggles at all.

 

“Since you decided not to study English in the future, why don’t you drop out of Harvard and come back?”

 

“After watching this video, I decided I want to try my best to study English, improve my vocabulary and speaking skills, and I will try to get 8.5 in the IELTS, so that one day I can help foreigners by giving directions, eat turkey sandwiches in the UK, listen to the small talk of students in Australia, confidently do international work, and use my proficient English to reflect on culture and language hegemony. But I realize it is very unlikely for me to attain that goal in my lifetime.”

“I watched her video and gosh, what can I say, it’s like those experts suggesting it’s better to buy a house than to rent one,” another blogger says, suggesting Tatala is too privileged to see that many people do not have the luxury to stop studying English because of linguistic hegemony.

“Since you decided not to study English in the future, why don’t you drop out of Harvard and come back?” another Weibo user wrote.

There were also people defending Tatala, suggesting that her point was not to discourage others from studying English: “What she expresses in the video is to use English as ‘a tool’ and not to reject a person because you reject their language,” one commenter wrote, with one netizen adding: “The ‘not learning English anymore’ part actually means she is no longer pursuing the cultural identity behind the language.”

Another person posted: “Some of the people here either have problems understanding or they just have bad intentions. ‘Not learning English anymore’ was just an opening line, what the vlogger is conveying here is the prejudice and discrimination in linguistics, which is a common phenomenon in the context of American culture. Ofcourse, we can’t deny the ‘privilege’ of the vlogger, but this doesn’t change the fact that she has come up with though-provoking content.”

“She is saying you should have pride in your mother tongue, she is not really saying you should not learn English. She’s at Harvard – ofcourse that’s not what she’s gonna say.”

Other Weibo users said that they felt that Tatala should not have used a ‘clickbait’ title for a video that discusses cultural confidence. “It’s just awkward that this has even become a trending topic,” one person wrote.

“Not learning English or another foreign language is just unacceptable, especially for students who are still in school. But since our requirements are different, the levels we reach in speaking a foreign language will be different. Because of different cultures and upbringings, we will inescapably have communication barriers between us and native speakers. But we must try hard, because it is always good to have a greater understanding of other cultures and customs. Just don’t be too demanding.”

You can watch Tatala’s video here.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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Discussions on Didi After $1.2 Billion Fine for User-Data Violations

“Don’t even worry about rectifying, just go away,” some commenters wrote about Didi after learning the car-hailing company illegally and excessively collected user data.

Manya Koetse

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One of the topics trending on Chinese social media this week is Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi and the precarious situation the company is in. Online discussions are ongoing after the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) imposed a fine of 8.026 billion yuan [US$1.19 billion] on Didi Global on July 21 due to its alleged violation of at least three major laws, namely China’s Network Security Law, Data Security Law, and the Personal Information Protection Law.

Didi CEO Cheng Wei and President Liu Qing also each received a fine of one million yuan (US$148,000) personally as they were held responsible for the company’s violations.

Beijing launched a cybersecurity investigation into Didi on July 2nd of 2021, just days after the company’s June 30 US$4.4 billion initial public offering in New York. The investigation was launched “to protect national security and the public interest,” and also came at a time when Didi reportedly went against the CAC by pressing ahead with its New York stock listing despite allegedly being urged to wait until a cybersecurity review of its data practices was conducted. Shortly after, the CAC ordered domestic app stores to remove all of Didi’s services.

Now that the investigation into Didi is completed, the CAC states that there is conclusive evidence that Didi committed 16 law violations including illegally obtaining information from users’ smartphones – such as collecting information from users’ clipboards and photo albums – and “excessively” collecting personal data, including facial recognition and information relating to age, occupation, home/work addresses, and family relations (also see Zichen Wang’s write-up on this here).

Didi Chuxing, China’s biggest taxi-hailing service, has over 550 million users and 31 million drivers. Besides taxi-hailing, Didi also offers other app-based transportation services, such as private car-hailing and social ride-sharing.

It is not the first time for the company to be in hot water. In 2018, the murders of two young women by Didi drivers caused national outrage and sparked concerns over customers’ safety when hailing a car through the Didi company.

On Weibo, various hashtags relating to Didi went trending over the past week, such as “Didi fined 8.026 billion yuan” (#滴滴被处80.26亿元罚款#), “Didi excessively collected 107 million pieces of passengers’ facial recognition information” (#滴滴过度收集1.07亿条乘客人脸识别信息#), and “Cyberspace Administration of China imposes administrative penalty on Didi” (#网信办对滴滴作出行政处罚#).

Some Weibo users wonder why Didi is just receiving a fine rather than being immediately shut down over the serious violations they committed. “You still not shutting them down?” was a popular recurring comment. Although rumors surfaced over Didi’s car-sharing business going bankrupt, some expert bloggers claimed the company still would have enough financial power to go on after paying the fine.

The CAC has not provided details about the exact nature of the previously reported government’s “national security concerns” regarding Didi, but on Weibo, some netizens share their ideas on the matter: “Didi has a lot of people’s data. Just by hailing a car, they determine your cellphone number, your occupation, address, family member information, The U.S. could carry out targeted bribery or intimidation of some important people in China, as well as obtaining the geographic data Didi has, which would mean a heavy blow to China’s cyber security.” Another commenter wrote: “Didn’t they already sell this illegally obtained user information? Is it a threat to national security?”

Others worry about their own privacy, writing: “Do people still have privacy nowadays? We talk about one thing today, tomorrow we’ll be bombarded with advertisements for that very same thing.”

But others mentioned that the general consumer will keep using Didi when booking a taxi via app, simply because it’s still the major player in the market.

On Weibo, Didi responded to the administrative punishment via their official Weibo account, writing:

We sincerely thank the departments in charge for their inspection and guidance, and we thank the public for their criticism and supervision. We will draw a lesson from this, and will pay equal attention to the importance of security and development, and we will further strengthen the construction of our network security and data security, enhance the protection of personal information, effectively fulfill our social responsibility, serve all of our passengers, drivers, and partners, for the company’s safe, healthy, and sustainable development.”

“Don’t even worry about rectifying, just go away,” some commenters wrote.

Read more of our articles about Didi Chuxing here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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