Alibaba is “disturbed” by reports that its software has been used to target Uyghurs.
Alibaba (BABA) says it has stopped trying to identify facial features after the company was accused this week of creating a face recognition program designed to find Uyghurs.
The Chinese technology company released its statement after the New York Times and IPVM, published in the monitoring industry, reported that the Alibaba unit had shown its customers how to use its technology to identify members of the Uyghur community in videos and photos.
The program was developed by Alibaba’s cloud computing team, and is suspected to include the following example: “Is this Uyghur?” on the algorithm, according to the report. It also reportedly included a code to see if someone was a “minority” or an “Asian”.
In a statement Thursday, Alibaba said it was “frustrating to find that Alibaba Cloud has developed facial recognition technology in an experimental environment that includes racism as a signal algorithm for tagging video images.”
Alibaba did not name the Uyghurs in his statement, nor did he explain how the program was built and why it was originally built. But it emphasized that the technology was limited to tests only, and “was not used by any customer.”
“We never intended for our technology to be used and we will not allow it to be used to identify certain races,” the company said. “We have removed any condition of nationality in our product delivery.”
China has long been accused of oppressing the Uyghurs and other small Muslim groups, especially in the western region of Xinjiang.
The US State Department estimates that as of 2015, an estimated two million Muslims and other Turks have been detained in Xinjiang’s largest rehabilitation camps. Beijing has long defended the extinction in Xinjiang as needed to fight terrorism and terrorism.
While Alibaba argued that “racial or ethnic discrimination or printing of any kind violates Alibaba’s policies and standards,” he declined to comment on whether any of the staff involved in the process were facing disciplinary action.
The company also declined to comment on how the program could have been tested without official information or permission from Alibaba.
Although Alibaba insists that the technology was not used commercially, the company made this clear to customers on its website advertising its cloud services, according to The New York Times.
“Alibaba’s website for its cloud business showcased how clients can use its software to find the faces of [Uyghurs] and other races between photos and videos, according to pages on this site,” writes The Times.
When The Times questioned Alibaba about the matter, the technology company “set up its website to clear the index,” the newspaper reported. Alibaba declined to comment.
Alibaba, one of China’s most important companies, has grown to become the world’s third largest cloud service provider, according to research company Gartner.
The Hangzhou-based firm is the latest tech giant facing scrutiny over the potential surveillance of Uyghurs. Last week, Huawei faced similar controversy after IPVM accused the Chinese smartphone maker of testing similar technologies.
In a joint investigation with The Washington Post, the outlet reported that Huawei had tried adding so-called “Uyghur alarms” to its facial recognition software, which would identify members of the minority group and then potentially alert the police.
Huawei later said he was investigating the matter, although he refused to work on “developing or selling programs that identify people by race.”
“We take seriously the allegations in the Washington Post,” the company said in a statement released by CNN Business. “We neither support nor will ever support the use of technology to discriminate against vulnerable or disadvantaged groups.”