Facial recognition is ubiquitous in China. Carriers use it to register new smartphone users. Authorities use it to surveil crowds. Schools use it to monitor students. And everyday people use it to unlock phones, make payments, and enter their apartment complexes.
The coronavirus outbreak is foiling all that, Abacus reported last week. Some Chinese provinces have mandated that citizens wear face masks when they leave home. And many others are covering their faces out of an abundance of caution.
This is a bug in a system increasingly reliant on facial recognition. People have to decide between the protection provided by the face mask and the convenience provided by facial recognition tech. For example, some Chinese people complained on social media that they couldn't easily access WeChat Pay like they're used to, according to Abacus.
Zoom out: While the coronavirus has put a dent in facial recognition's effectiveness, it could hasten rollouts of other emerging technologies like drone delivery, self-driving vehicles, telemedicine…
...and surveillance. One Chinese company has developed a gait recognition system to track suspected coronavirus patients, per the state-run Global Times.