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What about China’s blacklisted AI firms?

In China’s energetic drive to overtake the United States in the AI sector, the Chinese high-tech businesses blacklisted by Washington over possible ties to rights abuses are rising stars.

They produce surveillance cameras, facial recognition software and other technology that has become omnipresent in Xinjiang, the heavily policed northwest zone where an estimated one million predominantly Muslim minorities were detained in internment camps, such as ethnic Uighurs.

On Monday, eight companies were added to a list of 28 organisations that US businesses were barred from trying to sell products without permission from the government.

Here is a glimpse at the threatened companies:


One of the biggest manufacturers of monitoring equipment in the world, Hikvision is the poster child for Chinese tech firms benefiting from the expanding security apparatus in Xinjiang.

It won at least five security-related contracts in Xinjiang in 2017 totalling 1.85 billion yuan (US$ 260 million), including a “social prevention and control system” with tens of thousands of cameras.

But the company also has a global presence, with almost 30% of last year’s revenue coming from outside China.

Hikvision said the U.S. listing lacked “factual basis” and downplayed its effect on Wednesday in a conference call with investors and journalists.

“Currently, the majority of US components can all be directly replaced or replaced with new designs,” said Huang Fanghong, board secretary.


An AI firm backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba, Megvii’s facial recognition technology is used across a wide range of applications in China, ranging from “smile to charge” mobile payments to the identification of law enforcement persons.

The company plans to launch an initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong, but Goldman Sachs, one of its joint partners, said it was “evaluating” its position in the aftermath of the blacklist.

Megvii said the change in the US “reflects a misconception of our business.”

Only one per cent of its 2018 revenue came from Xinjiang projects, and in the first six months of 2019, it added, no income was generated from the region.

The New York Times reported in April that several Chinese AI companies, including Megvii, Yitu, and SenseTime, were behind software used for racial profiling and tracking of Uighurs.

Former US vice president and presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter, accused of corruption by President Donald Trump, is a director at BHR Partners, a fund that has invested in Megvii, according to media reports.


SenseTime is funded by an impressive group of investors, including SoftBank, Alibaba, and Qualcomm, the US chipmaker.

Founded by MIT alumnus Tang Xiao’ou, a professor at the Hong Kong University of China, the AI company develops applications for facial and photo recognition, such as crowd control and identity verification for borrowing devices.

The business has a Silicon Valley research laboratory and is working on AI projects with universities around the world, including MIT.

In an emailed statement, MIT said that it would “study all existing relationships” with organisations added to the list of institutions in Washington and “modify any contacts, if appropriate”

SenseTime said the blacklisting “deeply disappointed” and “work closely with all relevant authorities to fully understand and resolve the situation.”


Dahua Technology is another leading provider of video surveillance equipment with a growing footprint across the country and has projects in Brazil, Italy and other countries.

Approximately 36 per cent of the Shenzhen-listed company’s revenue came from overseas, according to its 2018 financial report.

The U.S. has officially barred Dahua and Hikvision from securing government contracts in August, along with mobile company Huawei and other companies.


Meiya Pico, a digital forensics firm, looked at rights groups after security researchers said the company was behind “MFSocket”-an app that allows police to retrieve numbers, emails and other personal data from smartphones.


Yitu Technology has developed facial and speech recognition apps to assist law enforcement, such as bank identity authentication, cancer screening, and traffic hubs monitoring.


Shenzhen-listed AI group iFlytek is one of China’s most significant voice recognition companies.

Human Rights Watch said in 2017 that iFlytek worked with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security to collect samples of “voice pattern” and develop a surveillance system that could identify targeted voices in phone conversations.

Science and Technology Co. YIXIN Yixin. Ltd is a security company headquartered in Beijing that sells products for video surveillance, facial recognition and counter-terrorism.

The company provided mobile surveillance systems at bus stops during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to track terrorist attacks.

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