In China, your face can really open doors now

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Your face can get you more than just toilet paper in China.

Now a number of female students at one of the country’s top universities can use their face to open doors, according to news reports. Beijing Normal University recently installed two facial recognition devices at the entrance way to the No. 13 female student dormitory. This adds to a growing list of ways the Chinese have made their face the key to the things they want.

Students need to either swipe their student ID card, key in their ID number, or say their name. The camera will then scan their faces for a match against records and open the door for registered residents. (Here is a video of how it works.) Those entering will be greeted with a “welcome home” while those heading out into the world will be told “you look pretty,” according to local reports.

The monitoring system will alert if strangers follow students when they enter the building, a university official told the Beijing News, according to the Telegraph.

For a machine that literally opens a door based on your looks, it can be very forgiving.

“Even after I had my hair cut, the machine still recognized me,” a student told People’s Daily Online. “There is a 3-D face model database, so even if you wear makeup or gain weight, the machine recognizes you anyway.”

But the system can also create logjams at the door, with some residents complaining on social media that after classes a crowd forms to get in the dormitory since students can only enter one face at a time.

The school is the first among Beijing region universities to adopt this technology, which could roll out to another nine undergraduate female dormitories, according to local reports.

Facial recognition is seeping into all walks of life in China.

Cameras at the running course in Shanghai’s Mingzhuhu Park track faces to measure a runners’ speed, according to China Daily. In Wuzhen, which gets nearly seven million tourists visit a year, China’s search giant, Baidu, replaced a ticket-based entry pass system for attractions with a face scan so that entrance ways to tourist areas automatically open to hotel guests without any prompting. The town gets nearly seven million tourists visit every year, according to the New York Times.

Baidu even worked with KFC to develop screens to predict what a customer wants to eat (though it failed to impress one customer that the Guardian spoke with: “If it knows in future what I want to eat that’s great, but at the moment it’s not very smart.”)

“Face recognition might transform everything from policing to the way people interact every day with banks, stores, and transportation services” in the world’s most populous country, according to Technology Review. The appeal of the technology is convenience, Jie Tang, an associate professor at Tsinghua University, told the magazine.

The mobile payment app Alipay already allows its more than 120 million people to transfer money with a scan of the face. Some local governments have used it to identify suspected criminals from surveillance videos.

And earlier this year Western media breathless reported that Beijing authorities sought to curtail toilet paper theft at the restrooms of the Temple of Heaven by installing toilet paper dispensers with face scanners. Each face was allotting a two-foot long sheet of tissue paper, with a nine minute delay till the next dispensation.

“If we encounter guests who have diarrhea or any other situation in which they urgently require toilet paper, then our staff on the ground will directly provide the toilet paper,” a park spokesman told the Beijing Wanbao newspaper.

Of course, China isn’t the only country making use of facial recognition technology. Airports in Japan to Australia and New York have tested devices, with Delta Air Lines saying they will try out face scans to speed up luggage check-in for priority passengers.

The Economist raises the question of whether it’s a move to cut workers or if such systems could lead to “abuse from marketers, hackers or unscrupulous government entities.”

“As with many things in the unfolding age of big data, convenience might come at the cost of privacy.”

By Herman Wong

Shirley Feng contributed to this report from Beijing

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