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Facial recognition in public restroom required if you want toilet paper

Mar 22, 20173 mins
Data and Information SecuritySecurity

If you want toilet paper at one UNESCO World Heritage Site in China, you must submit to a face scan before an allotted amount will roll out of a device

When you gotta go, you gotta go, but there may be a line in public restrooms. Usually those lines don’t have anything to do with surveillance. Let’s hope a new biometric authentication trial in China doesn’t roll out here, or else you would have to stop in public bathrooms in front of a device that uses facial recognition and wait for your allotted amount of toilet paper to be dispensed.

Too bad, so sad if the 24-inch strip of toilet paper isn’t enough. The dispenser will not spit out more paper to the same person until after nine minutes have passed.

Why would this creepy type of surveillance be deployed in public restrooms? To combat toilet paper theft.

Beijing’s Temple of Heaven Park has installed six $720 facial-recognition toilet paper dispensers after providing free paper in its public restrooms for 10 years. Numerous reports say toilet paper is not provided in most public bathrooms in China, so free TP is a luxury.

Apparently, Temple of Heaven visitors “lack paper use manners.” A China Radio International report cited a temple toilet cleaner at the UNESCO World Heritage Site as claiming that “some people take much more paper than needed and sometimes even take a whole roll away with them; sometimes paper is used up in only 20 minutes.”

A Temple of Heaven Park manager told The New York Times that the toilet paper thieves were local residents, not tourists. NBC News was told the thieves are “middle-aged and old people, who come to the park regularly.”

The company that designed the automated facial-recognition paper dispenser told the Times, “We brainstormed many options: fingerprints, infrared and facial recognition. We went with the facial recognition because it’s the most hygienic way.” People can be issued more TP after nine minutes because that is when the facial recognition image is automatically deleted.

The park has a plan if a person is sick and the allotted strip just won’t cut it. The BCC quoted a park spokesman as saying, “If we encounter guests who have diarrhea or any other situation in which they urgently require toilet paper, then our staff on the ground will directly provide the toilet paper.”

Facial recognition machines cause confusion, delays

The machines were installed at different heights, the average height for men and women. There have already been problems with the high-tech toilet paper dispensers. The face scan is supposed to take three seconds, but can take up to 30 seconds. That has reportedly caused confusion and delays.

The Guardian reported that the park had to first post attendants in the restrooms to explain how the devices worked. Lines to be issued paper and then use the restrooms have been backed up due to the park being one of Beijing’s busiest tourist destinations.

“In some case the machines broke down completely, forcing bathroom staff to manually distribute toilet paper” and “hopefully remember the faces of each person.” the publication reported.

The park first tried putting up signs about responsible toilet paper use. It seems both crazy and creepy that now in order to get paper, a person must “stand in front of a high-definition camera for three seconds, after removing hats and glasses, before a 60cm ration is released.”

“Is there not a solution somewhere between ‘put up a sign’ and ‘install the sort of thing Bond villains use to secure their secret vaults’?” asked American historian Jeremiah Jenne in The New York Times article.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.