The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
Find and delete The Paper’s Article “Voiceprint Analysis Can Recognize Swindlers: Causes 80% Drop in Fake Legal Case Phone Scams in Anhui”; do not hype related technical content. (February 28) [Chinese]
The article from state-owned flagship online news outlet The Paper, which is reposted in full at CDT Chinese, begins with the story of an Anhui woman who received a fraudulent phone call. The caller claimed to hold a court summons against her, and said she would need to authorize a large payment over the phone to resolve the matter. At the last moment, the report says, the call set off an alarm with the local public security organs’ voiceprint recognition system, and they were able to terminate the call, averting the loss of ten to twenty million yuan.
The technology involved is reported to have been developed by the Intelligent Speech Technology Public Security Key Laboratory, established in 2012 by Anhui public security authorities and the University of Science and Technology of China’s Xunfei Information Technology, also known as iFlyTek. Its new Telephone Fraud Monitoring and Interception Platform can identify known scammers based on the voiceprint created by their unique biometric and behavioral characteristics. iFlyTek chairman Liu Qingfeng has claimed that the system, now integrated with local phone networks, reduced phone scams involving fake legal cases by 80% in Anhui in 2015, even as they rose by almost 70% nationally. The company claims that its voiceprint identification is more than 95% accurate, and besides fighting phone fraud can offer an extra layer of security in contexts like credit cards, remote stock trading, and social security.
The article goes on to note concerns including the fact that biometric characteristics, unlike passwords, cannot be changed if they are somehow compromised; the effects on one’s voice of factors like disease, drunkenness, and mood; and the security and privacy implications of automatically monitoring the entire phone network. This may be behind the order to delete the article, whether because it falsely alleged or inadvertently revealed the extent of automated monitoring.
iFlyTek also powers the LingLong DingDong, a Chinese-speaking home voice assistant akin to Amazon’s Echo. The privacy implications of such systems have been highlighted by Amazon’s ongoing U.S. court battle over recordings of a murder one of its devices may have witnessed. Privacy hazards have also been revealed with microphone-equipped childrens’ toys, another area in which iFlyTek is pushing its technology.
The company and its government collaborations recently appeared in a New York Times article on Chinese advances in defense-related artificial intelligence technologies, in which chairman Liu expressed his hope that an iFlyTek device would be able “to attend the college entrance examination, and to be admitted by key national universities in the near future.”
Another article from The Paper, on research into the public health impact of smog, was targeted by a deletion order earlier in February.
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.