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China Takes Aim at Toilet Paper Thieves: Facial Recognition Dispenser in Restrooms

① China’s Facial Recognition Technology

Facial recognition toilet paper dispenser in a Chinese department store / Alibaba

China boasts world-leading expertise in facial recognition control technology. This technology involves the identification of an individual’s facial characteristics, which are then converted into data for storage or analysis.

Across China, facial recognition technology has found widespread application in various sectors. Its usage extends from security systems and automated payments to traffic law enforcement, seamlessly integrating into the daily lives of the Chinese populace.

This technology can identify a person within a mere 3-second timeframe while maintaining an accuracy rate of 99%. Its remarkable proficiency is evident in its ability to effectively distinguish among a population as vast as 1.4 billion people.

The Wall Street Journal

Facial recognition technology gained significant traction in 2017 when it introduced a real-time analysis system combining CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities. In 2019, another notable development occurred with the introduction of the “Real Name Registration Management System for Mobile Phone Subscribers.” This system mandates the registration of facial data when activating a mobile phone, a measure justified by the Chinese government as essential for safeguarding citizens’ legitimate rights and interests in the digital realm.

Nonetheless, concerns have arisen regarding the potential use of facial recognition technology for surveillance purposes. In January of last year, the Human Rights Commission voiced apprehension, asserting that China, at the forefront of adopting and deploying facial recognition technology, faced international criticism for its monitoring of citizens. This has led to unfavorable public sentiment in China and other nations that have employed facial recognition primarily within investigative agencies, including the United States. The applications of facial recognition technology continue to expand into unexpected domains.

② Toilet Paper Dispenser in Department Store Restrooms


Facial recognition technology is now utilized to dispense toilet paper in public restrooms across China, encompassing parks and municipal facilities. Even in the restrooms of department stores, access to toilet paper is contingent upon facial recognition.

Within department store restrooms, individuals receive an appropriate allotment of toilet paper following verification through a brief interaction with the camera. This innovative system was introduced as a measure to curb theft and prevent wastage of toilet paper. Notably, it restricts individuals from obtaining additional supplies if they have already received them previously. When facial recognition-equipped toilet paper dispensers were initially deployed, the reaction among the Chinese populace was predominantly unfavorable.


Numerous individuals proposed that selling toilet paper might be a more practical approach. Chinese citizens expressed their discontent, with some criticizing the system as inconvenient for those hurrying into the restroom. In contrast, others suggested purchasing toilet paper directly from department store restrooms would be preferable. Questions arose about the necessity of undergoing facial recognition even when using department store facilities.

In addition to introducing toilet paper dispensers, restrooms have emerged with usage time restrictions. The city of Shanghai, for instance, integrated artificial intelligence technology into public restrooms, incorporating AI, facial recognition technology, and human detectors into 150 facilities across the city.

An alert mechanism has been implemented to notify managers or responsible officials if restroom usage exceeds 15 minutes. This measure is intended to prevent situations where individuals encounter accidents that go unnoticed for extended periods. However, rather than achieving its intended purpose, this initiative has led to an increase in user complaints.


Facial recognition technology has found widespread application, even in recycling bins. Identity verification at airports and train stations now takes less than a second, achieved by merely showing your face to the camera. ATMs are equipped to recognize faces, and this technology extends to services such as luggage storage, supermarkets, subway ticket gates, and public offices. It’s now possible to conduct transactions without needing a physical ID, thanks to the integration of facial recognition technology into various aspects of daily life.

③ Control Stepped in as Negative Public Opinion Continued


As facial recognition technology was applied everywhere in China, problems followed. The number of installed facial recognition cameras surged from 176 million in 2017 to 626 million in 2020. Chinese people claimed that they were invaded in their privacy as facial recognition technology was used everywhere. Many reactions were like hell because CCTV cameras were everywhere outside the house.

Then, the Chinese authorities stepped in to control facial recognition technology. Last August, China’s internet regulatory agency, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), announced a draft rule to suppress the use of facial recognition. According to this, facial recognition technology is prohibited unless it obtains people’s consent or is intended for national security.

Identity verification using facial recognition technology was banned except when legally requested in public places such as hotels, banks, and train stations. Facial recognition technology was prohibited without the government’s prior approval. Facial recognition technology has also become a subject of criticism in China.

By. Sung Min Seo

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