The US blacklists a swath of Chinese AI companies and government bureaus

A security camera outside a mosque in Kashgar. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The US has added 8 Chinese tech companies and twenty government bureaus to its Entity List, which blocks them from doing business with US firms or buying US-made components like microchips.

The companies include giant surveillance and AI firms like Megvii, SenseTime and Hikvision.

The firms and bureaus share something in common: they produce and deploy advanced surveillance technology in China's tense Western provinces, where the Chinese government uses facial recognition and advanced cameras to track and subjugate the region's Muslim minority groups.

From the Department of Commerce's filing:

These entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the [Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region].

The move is reminiscent of the US's blacklisting of Huawei late last year, which temporarily crippled the company and cut its phones off from Google's Android operating system, as well as from US chips and semiconductors. Since then, Huawei has sped up development of its own in-house mobile system and announced advanced chips of its own.

The US's move, some say, was planned to buy US negotiators leverage in upcoming trade war negotiations. According to MIT Technology Review, Chinese firms buy up to 90% of their chips from foreign companies.

The companies are among China's most valuable in surveillance and facial and audio recognition:

  • Megvii Technology
  • Hikvision
  • SenseTime
  • Dahua Technology
  • Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co. Ltd.
  • Yitu Technologies
  • Yixin Science and Technology Co. Ltd.


China's social credit system

October 2nd

China's social credit system has been described as a nationwide, all-encompassing personal rating mechanism, used to punish and reward citizens based on their financial history, personal contacts and even the amount of time they play video games.

In reality, the social credit system does not produce a single, nationwide credit rating for Chinese citizens. At least not yet. In fact, many people may not have a social credit score, or even know if they do.

Announced in 2014, the social credit system has been tested across a patchwork of social and consumer apps and local government pilot programs (like those already running in Shandong and Xinjiang).

The nearest thing to a nationwide score for Chinese citizens is likely the Supreme People's Court's debtors list, which contains the names of 14.5 million people with longterm debt.

The official social credit system is slated to roll out in 2020. Shortly after announcing the system, the People's Bank of China granted approval to eight private firms ($) to run their own pilot programs. Since then, local government-led ratings systems have also sprouted up across the country as well.

Five years on, the future of the system is somewhat uncertain. When it is fully rolled out, it may ultimately gather data from disparate sources that already exist-- like the debtor's list, local government data, and individual browsing histories and social media activity to compile metrics wherever available.

“The social credit system is just really adding technology and adding a formality to the way the party already operates,” Samantha Hoffman, a consultant at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Foreign Policy.