Scott Ong
Scott Ong

Concerns over facial recognition AI

Corporate November 05, 2018 01:00

By WICHIT CHAITRONG
THE NATION

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THE ARRIVAL of artificial intelligence facial recognition technology across Asean countries, including Thailand, has raised concerns among businesses and consumers over individual privacy.



YITU Technology, a China-based AI provider specialising in facial recognition, opened its first international office in Singapore earlier this year. The company has been ranked first for the second consecutive year in the Face Recognition Vendor Test(FRVT) this year, organised by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US. 

“Singapore is located at the centre of Asean and we want to spread our footprint in the region. Currently, we are educating the market [about the technology],” said Scott Ong, YITU’s technical director /Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Macau.

China Merchants Bank installed YITU’s facial recognition technology in China in 2015, he said. Bank customers can use this technology for financial transactions with the bank via their mobile phones or ATMs. To date, the technology has been implemented across around 2,000 China Merchants Bank ATMs in China.

It was followed by the Agricultural Bank of China in 2017 and the Auxiliary Force Sdn Bhd (AFSB) in Malaysia, he added. 

Facial recognition is especially suitable for security firms providing guard service at buildings. It also helps casino staff recognise VIP guests, so that they can be served promptly,” he said adding that casinos could also use the technology to detect unwelcome visitors. 

He revealed that his company had discussed business deals with a few commercial banks in Thailand.

When asked about concerns raised over intrusion of privacy and misuse of individual data, he said his company could not access customer data, as it was not the firm collecting the information. 

On the debate of individual privacy, Ong said that consumers download applications because they are offered financial returns, such as free drinks or discounts for buying goods.

“How individual data could be used depends on an agreement in society,” he added.

Prinya Hom-anek, a cybersecurity expert in Thailand, said that the decision on adopting facial recognition and other technologies related to AI comes down to privacy concerns.

“If a shop-owner installs a camera embedded with a deep-learning machine that could recognise the faces of everyone walking in or passing by his shop, then what is individual rights. Many may not be happy with it,” he said.

He believed that the technology is being used at some shops in Thailand and the government may install the cameras at airports for the purpose of picking out criminals and those under police investigation among air passengers.

He agrees with Thai commercial banks adopting the technology for financial transactions, similar to some banks in China. 

“However, it should be used with tighter authentication requirements, such as an additional pin number in order to ensure customer security,” said Prinya.

The Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA), a public organisation under the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, is tasked with drafting the data protection law, but its initial draft has met with widespread criticism. 

Prinya said that its team of writers attempted to use the European Union’s data protection and privacy law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as a model for Thailand. 

“The draft law does not comply with all EU standards due to the high costs of implementation. It is also not practical to enforce all GDPR requirements in Thailand, he said.

It also calls for fines in millions of baht as well as jail sentences in some cases. 

“The harsh penalties are not practical as there is currently no cybersecurity technology that can fully protect data from leaking,” he pointed out.

“Moreover, the draft law allows a grace period of just six months for businesses to adapt, compared with two years under the GDPR. Both private and government organisations need more time to consider how to secure their data.

“Even selfies posted on Facebook could be stolen by hackers, to be sold on the dark web, together with private messages through a malicious browser extension, Prinya said.

In September, the Cabinet approved the draft of the digital identification law or Digital ID, leaving the door open to any technology, including facial recognition, as a tool for authentication. The draft is meant to facilitate the use of latest technology for consumer protection. It will be taken up later by the National Legislative Assembly.

Meanwhile, Franklin Templeton Emerging Markets Equity’s Sukumar Rajah and Eric Mok, in an article titled “The Race to Harness AI Technology in Asia”, said that AI and automation present enormous investment opportunities. The two authors think some promising developments in Asia could dictate the pace of change in the burgeoning AI market. 

They think infrastructure for new technology is likely to be just as significant if AI development is to truly thrive. 

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