Chinese cities have widely deployed facial recognition systems on their streets to catch and fine jaywalkers... but sometimes it doesn’t work as planned.

At one intersection in the eastern city of Ningbo, the face of famous Chinese businesswoman Dong Mingzhu was displayed on a public screen dedicated to “naming and shaming” jaywalkers caught by the city’s facial recognition system. The photo of Dong included a line of text saying that she had just broken the law by crossing during a red light.

Except that she wasn’t jaywalking. She wasn’t there at all. What the cameras captured was her face on an advertisement on the side of a bus that had just driven through the intersection.

Dong Mingzhu’s face shown on the screen of an intersection in Ningbo. (Picture: Weibo)

A photo of the display screen has been making rounds on Weibo, with users poking fun at the failure of the much-hyped ability of facial recognition. “Who is that person clinging onto the bus? Serious Warning!” One Weibo user joked.

Ningbo’s traffic police later posted a statement on Weibo, admitting that the facial recognition system made a mistake and said they had deleted the record of the violation. They also claimed that they had completed an upgrade of the system to prevent future such errors.

Chinese cities are widely adopting facial recognition for use at crossroads to identify jaywalkers. Shenzhen, for example, said it has shamed almost 14,000 jaywalkers in 10 months -- at one intersection alone.

Ningbo also boasted in June that facial recognition systems installed at six intersections in the city had captured more than 7,800 cases of red light-violating pedestrians and non-motor vehicles.

These systems can also check the jaywalkers’ identities in real time, but cities have different approaches to displaying jaywalkers’ personal information for technical and privacy reasons. Some cities don’t publicly display any personal information but instead check their identity at the backend, while some, including Ningbo, publicly display only a part of the offenders’ ID number and name. But the bus incident showed that the Ningbo system may not be that accurate. The display screen showed the surname “Ju” for Dong’s face.

Some netizens chose to look on the bright side of the mistake.

“It means that the system works -- it won’t let go of any face,” another Weibo user said.