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LOCKED OUT

Frustration grows in China as face masks compromise facial recognition

A woman's eyeglasses are fogged up as she wears a face mask during a snowfall in Beijing, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020.
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
Safety disguise
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Face masks are mandatory in at least two provinces in China, including the city of Wuhan. In an effort to contain the coronavirus strain that has caused nearly 500 deaths, the government is insisting that millions of residents wear protective face covering when they go out in public.

As millions don masks across the country, the Chinese are discovering an unexpected consequence to covering their faces. It turns out that face masks trip up facial recognition-based functions, a technology necessary for many routine transactions in China. Suddenly, certain mobile phones, condominium doors, and bank accounts won’t unlock with a glance.

Complaints are plentiful in the popular Chinese blogging platform Weibo, reports Abacus, the Hong Kong-based technology news outlet. “[I’ve] been wearing a mask everyday recently and I just want to throw away this phone with face unlock,” laments one user. “Fingerprint payment is still better,” writes another. “All I want is to pay and quickly run.”

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