Matthew Brennan

Facial recognition and the exchange of related data seems to meet little resistance in China, compared to Western consumers. Tencent observer Matthew Brennan sees some rubbles among the public, but indeed no big scale anxiety on facial recognition, he tells in Slate and dives into the different perceptions.


Matthew Brennan, co-host of the China Tech Talk podcast, is hesitant to make blanket statements—pointing out that plenty of cosmopolitan Chinese share values and viewpoints with Westerners—but he does suspect that facial recognition is widely accepted in China for deeply cultural reasons. He calls China a “low-trust society, while Western societies tend to be high-trust.” Brennan chalks that difference up to rampant scams, from street corners to social media feeds, that have long plagued the People’s Republic of China with uncertainty.

Oddly enough, that lack of trust typically doesn’t apply to government higher-ups or the cutting-edge tech firms linked to those officials. Instead, those upper echelons are often seen as sources of strong leadership or innovation that can root out lower-level, local corruption, including scammers and unscrupulous neighbors. A recent Bloomberg article unravels that paradox by describing an app piloted in one Chinese city, through which users can report what they deem to be dubious behavior of fellow citizens to the authorities. It goes on to say, “Depicted outside of China as a creepy digital panopticon, this network of so-called social-credit systems is seen within China as a means to generate something the country sorely lacks: trust. For that, perpetual surveillance and the loss of privacy are a small price to pay.”

“In business, Westerners tend to trust people until they prove themselves untrustworthy, but the opposite is true in China,” Brennan said. “It stems back to the deep tradition of guanxi, or relationships, where friends introduce you to people you can trust for tasks or transactions.” He thinks most domestic viewers of the China Mobile supercop ad would “see it putting forth strength to hunt down bad actors. Meanwhile in Western society, we’d say the state has too much control, and facial recognition is being used for negative purposes. It boils down to perceptions of trust.”


More in Slate.

Matthew Brennan is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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