Ever dream of having trash cans keep an eye on you with facial recognition to make sure you’re sorting your trash correctly? The dream is alive in Beijing.

Facial recognition cameras are being set up in residential areas, too, in a bid to crack down on tailgating and illegal subletting.

The face scanning software used in Beijing public housing is supplied by surveillance company Uniview. (Picture: CNS TV via Uniview)

This is just the latest implementation of facial recognition systems in China as the technology creeps further into people’s private lives. Public areas in the country’s biggest cities are already littered with facial recognition cameras designed to catch jaywalkers at crosswalks, check in passengers at train stations, and dispense toilet paper in public washrooms. 

Now the tech is showing up in the residential communities of government-subsidized housing in the nation’s capital, according to the South China Morning Post.

Residents of more than a dozen Beijing public housing estates are now required to scan their faces at automated entrance gates. Only official residents and registered delivery people are allowed to pass.

The system is said to be designed for two purposes: Preventing strangers from following residents into the complex and preventing residents from subletting their apartments, which is illegal for government housing. Authorities say the system stores data on about 130,000 residents living across the city’s 59 public housing projects, state media reported. The plan is to cover all of these neighborhoods by October.

In some districts, face scanners have also come to trash cans. As part of a nascent scheme to encourage recycling, the smart bins automatically weigh each set of garbage and assign corresponding gift credits or cash rebates to the individual.

Rewards include food and household products such as tissue paper, salt and eggs, according to The Beijing News. Those who fail to sort their waste correctly will be identified, though it’s unclear if there’s any corresponding punishment.

This just one of multiple efforts cropping up in various places in China to promote recycling. In Shanghai, the government introduced regulations requiring residents to sort garbage into dry garbage, wet garbage (kitchen waste), recyclables and hazardous waste. People had such a hard time distinguishing between the categories, a VR game for sorting garbage went viral in the city.

For the facial recognition scheme in Beijing, though, participation appears to be optional. While the lids automatically lift at the sight of registered users, regular users can simply open them manually. An official said more than half of Xicheng district’s 2,100 residents have already signed up.

Dispose your trash correctly. Big brother is watching. (Picture: The Beijing News)

While vigorous debates have erupted in the West over the use of facial recognition, China has widely embraced the technology. As government-led facial recognition systems move increasingly into private spaces, questions over personal privacy and data security are largely glossed over.

“The intention is good, but the fear is that residents’ personal data will be leaked,” wrote one social media user

“There’s no talk of privacy in this country,” said another popular comment.