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Alibaba Software Selectively Monitors Trips To and From Xinjiang

Foreign journalists who go to the Uyghur homeland are spied. So are Uyghurs who visit Shanghai.

By Massimo Introvigne

May 17, 2023

A high-speed train going to Urumqi. Credits. Buying a ticket for it may create an alert for the police.

IPVM (Internet Protocol Video Market ), a private but highly authoritative research group on video surveillance technology, is targeting Alibaba again. In 2021, it reported that the Chinese marketing and technology giant had developed and patented (as did other companies) face detection technology designed to recognize Uyghurs, prompting accusations of racism.

On May 2, IPVM published a new report, indicating that Alibaba has supplied Shanghai police with a system capable of identifying and reporting immediately foreign journalists who plan to travel to Xinjiang, as well as Uyghurs coming to Shanghai.

The system has been created for the police of Shanghai’s Songjiang district, where more than 1.5 million residents live. It is, however, presented as a “case study” that can be adopted in the future by the entire Shanghai police force—and beyond, since it is also being tested in other cities.

Shanghai police in action against protesters. From Twitter.

The system consists of 26 “modules” that create alerts for certain categories of incidents connected with specific events and persons. The modules work because the data are conveyed to Shanghai police’s cloud platform, which runs on a dedicated Alibaba cloud.

One of the modules flags foreign journalists who buy train or plane tickets to go to Xinjiang, or reserve hotels there. This information is immediately reported to the police, which presumably will interview the journalists, prevent them from traveling, or make sure that they will be put under surveillance as soon as they will arrive in Xinjiang.

Another module creates a system that will “spot Uyghurs coming to Shanghai.” Interestingly, Uyghurs are one of the categories specially monitored, together with prostitutes, illegal immigrants and foreigners with expired residence permits, and known drug traffickers.

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