Last summer, a respected U.S. academic journal about data mining published a study titled “Facial feature discovery for ethnicity recognition”, authored by four professors in China and one in Australia. The study found that an effective way to automatically predict the ethnicity of minorities in China was for facial recognition systems to focus on specific, T-shaped regions of their faces. In order to reach this conclusion, over 7,000 photographs were taken of 300 Uyghur, Tibetan, and Korean students at Dalian Minzu University in northeastern China.
The study, which received funding from Chinese government foundations, attracted little attention when it was published, but went viral at the end of May when PhD student Os Keyes tweeted out its abstract, writing: “TIL [today I learned] there’s a shitton of computer vision literature in 2017-2018 that COINCIDENTALLY tries to build facial recognition for Uyghur people. How. Curious.” Keyes’ post was retweeted over 500 times.