5,000 Facial Images Illegally Sold for Just ¥10 on Chinese Internet

By Tristin Zhang, December 4, 2019

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Facial recognition technology has expanded to many aspects of everyday life in China, such as digital payments, riding high-speed trains, bank withdrawals and so forth. Your face is now the key to the vault of your personal data, and the last thing you want is other people having access to it.

On November 29, the Paper reported that a collection of 5,000 headshots were sold publicly on the Chinese internet. Reporters found the facial images package on sale on an internet platform called Zhuanzhuan for only RMB10, which included multiple photos of various individuals. Through an online live chat, a Zhuanzhuan salesperson told reporters that they were not authorized to sell the photos.

Facial images have also been sold on Baidu Tieba, an online forum run by Chinese tech giant Baidu. A seller on Baidu Tieba told reporters that high definition facial images were sold at RMB0.5 apiece, while facial images that come with the person’s name, ID number, bank card number and mobile number were priced at RMB4 per photo. With this amount of personal information, one can apply for credit card loans or even set up a company, according to the Paper. 

READ MORE: Beijing Metro Stations to Use Facial Recognition for Faster Security Check

These facial images are accessible to illegal sellers in part because of the deceptive practices of facial recognition apps. For instance, a mobile app called Face Score has users upload headshots to rate their faces without any protocol to protect user privacy. Another popular app, called Passport Photo Creator, Print (证件照随拍), allows users to take identification photos for passports and ID cards, among other uses, but does not have a user agreement. 

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Passport Photo Creator, Print app. Screengrab via App Store

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Face Score app. Screengrab via App Store

What’s even worse is another face-scoring app called Yanzhi Paihang (颜值排行) stipulates in its terms and conditions that the developer of the app is entitled to permanent use of users’ facial images, free of charge. 

Last month, a university professor sued the Hangzhou Safari Park after being denied entry for refusing to go through a face recognition machine at the entrance. The Hangzhou Fuyang District People’s Court has accepted the case. 

Currently, Chinese laws have yet to regulate deceptive facial recognition practices, according to People’s Daily

READ MORE: Shanghai Police Use Facial Recognition to Bust Bad Bike Riders

[Cover image the Paper]

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