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Uber follows China’s lead under guise of coronavirus

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Uber announced last week that all drivers will be required to take selfies to prove to the company that they are wearing facemasks before drivers can pick up passengers. The development leaves many to wonder about the expanding surveillance state.

In Uber’s new scheme, drivers will also require passengers to wear face masks. Drivers are encouraged to report passengers that make them feel “unsafe” for not wearing masks.

“If you ever feel unsafe or if a rider is not wearing a face cover or mask, you can cancel the trip and report it to Uber’s support team by selecting ‘No face cover or mask’ as your cancellation reason,” said Uber in its memo to drivers.

Penalties for drivers or riders not wearing masks can include being “deplatformed,” meaning that they can no longer use Uber.

The company will employ a facial recognition technology to detect if drivers are wearing a mask in their photos. Uber already employs facial recognition and artificial intelligence for drivers, using the technology to verify if someone is an authorized Uber driver.  

However, some social media critics decried the move as the expansion of big data, big state surveillance.

“A police state,” said one user on Twitter, in response to the Uber news.

“Next up…the New Green Deal and CO2 warnings…more masks, more stay at home orders, more loss of freedoms. Democrats, the party of control.”

Uber has been slowly instituting more facial recognition systems in response to riders’ worries about safety.

China has used the same rationale for expanding their surveillance on the DiDi ridesharing app native to the communist country.

China used the murders of two DiDi riders as an excuse to expand active surveillance of DiDi autos with live audio and video.  They have also used the COVID crisis to expand surveillance, even teaching other countries how to use artificial intelligence, 5G, blockchain, big data and cloud computing to track social movements.

Like all power grabs, however, China has also used such invasions of privacy to violate the rights of its citizens.

China expects that by the end of 2020 it will have 626 million surveillance cameras, up from 176 million in 2017, according to Statista.com.

Most notably, China has used facial recognition technologies against its Uyghur population in Xinjiang province, where literally millions have been put into re-education camps.

And the coronavirus has been a convenient excuse to expand surveillance.

“Under the guise of fighting the novel Coronavirus, authorities in China have escalated suppression online by blocking independent reporting, information sharing and critical comments on Government responses,” said Renee Xia, international director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Additionally, contact tracing, the use of mapping technology to track movements and facial recognition have been combined to be able to reliably track the movements of people in China without their consent, under the guise of fighting the coronavirus.

“Everyone in the world needs to think about how to deal with the challenging issue of how technology is increasingly being deployed in all areas of our lives and tracking us and how we are going to hang onto our freedom,” concludes Didi Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Senior Fellow in the Asia Programme at the German Council of Foreign Relations.

These aren’t technologies of the future. They are here today and to stay.     

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