A new ad campaign by Chinese operator China Telecom promotes the enhanced spying and informing capabilities that 5G will bring.
The ad was spotted by Abacus, which notes the ad circulating on WeChat makes a virtue of how much easier it will be to spy and inform on people with 5G. Abacus asked China Telecom about the spying app featured in the ad, but was told it isn’t real and that there are no plans to develop such an app. The sole purpose of the ad was to illustrate a novel 5G use-case, they were told.
At the core of the ad are three elderly people sitting around having a chat when they spot a couple of shifty looking young men. They view them through some kind of augmented reality app on their phones, which instantly identifies them as criminals. It’s then just a matter of one click on their phone screens to report said baddies to the police.
Our Beijing correspondent reports that the final screen on the ad reads as follows: “5G, connecting all things, beating the Chaoyang Masses hands down. One-click reporting to the police.” The Chaoyang Masses are a well-known community security volunteer group based in the upmarket Chaoyang district of Beijing. They have apparently been instrumental in some fairly high-profile arrests.
Facial recognition is a big deal in China, with Beijing being at the forefront of a social credit system that promises 1984-style constant surveillance coupled with a system of incentives and punishments apparently designed to control almost every aspect of a person’s life. While there are presumably millions of CCTV cameras around the country to support this initiatives, there are many more smartphone cameras.
It’s perfectly conceivable that the social credit system will reward smartphone owners who inform on their fellow citizens, which in turn would massively increase the reach and efficiency of the surveillance state. No doubt the speed and low latency of 5G will augment this whole process, but it seems unwise for any individual telecoms company to align itself so closely to such a dystopian scheme.