In China, Big Brother is big business. As the ruling Communist Party steps up efforts to keep tabs on the world’s largest population, it’s turning to the nation’s most innovative companies for help.
Booming government demand for smart surveillance cameras, voice-recognition technology, and big-data analytics has minted several billionaires and spawned some of the world’s fastest-growing startups. It has also fueled concern that China Inc. is helping the government erode civil liberties. Keep reading for snapshots of the companies behind China’s controversial surveillance state.
Big Brother Billionaires
Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology
- The developer of surveillance cameras and facial-recognition technology has helped Chinese authorities roll out “safe city” initiatives in Xinjiang. It’s also banned from supplying the U.S. government. Vice Chairman Gong Hongjia has a net worth of $7.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index (as of Feb. 20).
Zhejiang Dahua Technology
- Like Hikvision, this maker of surveillance cameras and facial-recognition tech is banned from supplying the U.S. government. Its stock, listed in Shenzhen, is a component of MSCI Inc.’s global benchmark indexes. Chairman Fu Liquan has a net worth of $2.2 billion.
- Tiandy’s cameras can capture high-definition color images in lighting conditions equivalent to a night sky with one star. It also offers name-and-shame systems for identifying jaywalkers. Founder Dai Lin has a net worth of $1.4 billion.
Wuhan Guide Infrared
- The maker of infrared cameras and thermal imaging equipment is a supplier to the military and public security bureaus in China. Chairman Huang Li has a net worth of $1.3 billion.
- The e-commerce giant founded by Jack Ma has a cloud-computing unit that helps identify drivers who commit traffic violations. Alibaba is also invested in surveillance-related startups, including Sensetime.
- While Tencent provides tools for smart city programs, much of its surveillance and censoring-related activities don’t generate revenue. The company’s WeChat monitoring helps China’s government suppress dissent, according to University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Human Rights Watch. WeChat usernames have also been linked to police database, Human Rights Watch found.
- The Twitter-like social media service recently suspended several popular programs and accounts after a government crackdown, according to Human Rights Watch.
- The search-engine company offers “city brain” services in Beijing and other locations and has built a system to help China’s cybercops monitor stability-threatening content.
- The company best known for its recreational drones has signed a strategic partnership agreement with public security bureau of Xinjiang.
- The Trump administration is pushing allies to block Huawei over concerns that the Chinese government could use its equipment for spying, which the company has repeatedly denied. Huawei’s HiSilicon unit makes chips that power surveillance cameras.
- The Shenzhen government-backed insurer, which has been rapidly expanding its technology offerings in recent years, has smart city deals that include security and transportation.
Other Surveillance Players
- Police use the company’s facial recognition technology
- Facial recognition tech used by police and major Beijing train station
- Owner of news aggregator Toutiao is increasing to 10,000 the number of censors clearing banned content
- Facial recognition developer lists several public security bureaus as users
- Software uses facial scans held in a Ministry of Public Security database drawn from files on about 1.3 billion Chinese
- Police have used its facial recognition tech for identifying jaywalkers, cooperating with anti-terrorism institute
- Makes surveillance glasses for Ministry of Public Security, which it lists as a partner
- Computer vision company’s 3D image analysis and pattern recognition used by police to catch 100 people, including in Xinjiang province
- Police use its so-called gait technology to identify people by body shape and walk
- Voiceprint technology used by Chinese police, according to Human Rights Watch
- Facial recognition company works with police across China