In a statement on Thursday, Alibaba said it was “dismayed to learn that Alibaba Cloud has developed facial recognition technology in a test environment that includes ethnicity as an attribute of the algorithm for labeling video images.”
Alibaba did not mention Uyghurs in its statement, nor did it explain how or why the system was built in the first place. But he stressed that the technology was limited to testing and “was not implemented by any customer.”
“We never intended for our technology to be used and we will not allow it to be used to target certain ethnic groups,” the company said. “We have removed any ethnic label from our product offering.”
While Alibaba said that “racial or ethnic discrimination or profiling in any form violates Alibaba’s policies and values,” he declined to comment on whether the employees involved in the project faced disciplinary action.
The company also declined to comment on how the system could have been tested without official knowledge or Alibaba approval.
Although Alibaba insists the technology was not released commercially, the company explicitly promoted it to customers on a website that promotes its cloud services, according to The New York Times.
When the Times asked Alibaba about the issue, the technology company “edited its website to remove references,” according to the newspaper. Alibaba declined to comment.
The Hangzhou-based company is the latest technology giant facing potential Uyghur surveillance. Last week, Huawei faced a similar controversy after IPVM accused the Chinese smartphone maker of testing similar technologies.
Huawei later said it was investigating the issue, though it refused to work to “develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group.”
“We take the allegations in the Washington Post article very seriously,” the company said in a statement to CNN Business. “We have not supported and will never support the use of technology to discriminate against vulnerable or marginalized groups.”