In a statement Thursday, Alibaba said that it was “dismayed to learn that Alibaba Cloud developed a facial recognition technology in a testing environment that included ethnicity as an algorithm attribute for tagging video imagery.”
Alibaba did not mention Uyghurs in its statement, or explain how or why the system was built in the first place. But it stressed that the technology had been limited to trials, and “was not deployed by any customer.”
“We never intended our technology to be used for and will not permit it to be used for targeting specific ethnic groups,” the company said. “We have eliminated any ethnic tag in our product offering.”
While Alibaba said that “racial or ethnic discrimination or profiling in any form violates Alibaba’s policies and values,” it declined to comment on whether any employees involved in the project faced disciplinary action.
The company also declined to comment on how the system could have been tested without official knowledge or approval from Alibaba.
Though Alibaba insists the technology was not rolled out commercially, the company explicitly touted it to customers on a website promoting its cloud services, according to The New York Times.
When the Times questioned Alibaba about the matter, the tech firm “edited its website to remove the references,” according to the newspaper. Alibaba declined to comment on the matter.
The Hangzhou-based firm is the latest tech giant facing scrutiny over the potential surveillance of Uyghurs. Last week, Huawei faced similar controversy after IPVM accused the Chinese smartphone maker of testing similar technologies.
Huawei later said it was investigating the issue, though it denied working to “develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group.”
“We take the allegations in the Washington Post’s article very seriously,” the company said in a statement to CNN Business. “We have not and will never support the use of technology to discriminate against vulnerable or marginalized groups.”