Genocide Apps: Coming to an App Store Near You

It all began in China, but my guess is that it’s not going to end there. When the Chinese government decided it was time to eliminate the Uighur minority in northwest China, they came up with a novel idea. Why not ‘suggest’ that their Uighur citizens install ‘special’ apps on their phones? The apps the government suggested just happened to mimic frequently used apps such as Chinese search engine, Baidu, or the messenger app, WeChat. They have also, apparently, suggested a file sharing app called, Zapya, which was popular with Muslims. It seems pretty clear that the Chinese government compromised this app to identify Muslims who may have been sharing verses from the Koran or other religious material. Sharing such material is, to say the least, looked down on by Chinese authorities. In any event, here is an ironic image from Zapya’s website.

Whether the company producing the app was complicit in this spying scheme is difficult to say. However, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising.  But, to get to the point, if you are identified as a Uighur and have this app installed on your phone, you will be arrested. The same goes for having a VPN or foreign-based apps, such as WhatsApp. Here are some other activities that can get Uighur Muslims in trouble.

In 2018 the government stepped up its surveillance efforts. This time, they forced all people in Xinjiang province to install the mobile app, Jingwangweishi, or “web cleaning soldier”, which promised to “clear the trash off your phone”.  Not complying with the installation ‘request’ will, according to one source, result in being imprisoned for 10 days. To no one’s surprise, the app scans the phone for incriminating data and sends it to the authorities. It also blocks access to certain sites. And it was only a matter of time before the Chinese government introduced a COVID tracking app. Now, for most Chinese, this app has become, for all practical purposes, mandatory. Those not using it may not be allowed free travel or entry into certain events or areas.

If you are living in Xinjang province and, during a routine phone check, the police find incriminating data on your phone, you will be arrested. You will be sent to what the Chinese government labels a ‘vocational education and training center’. How nice, you might think. In fact, these, at best, are re-education centers. The Chinese government wants to unify the country under one culture, the Chinese Han culture. Under this banner, they have recently outlawed use of the Mongolian language. When Mongolians protested, 4000 to 5000 of them were arrested. In the future, if not already, they, too, will need to be re-educated.

Here is a picture secretly taken by The Guardian of the ‘campus’ of one of these training centers.

And here are some of the happy students.

But it’s just education, right. No one’s being killed so why is this genocide?

Genocide does not necessarily involve killing. It is a term that refers to the destruction of an ethnic group or any group organized under a particular ideology. The destruction can take different forms. According to the U.N., genocide consists of “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group,.. including the killing of its members, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately imposing living conditions that seek to…bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part … preventing births, or forcibly transferring children out of the group to another group. But others claim that true genocide is, in fact, going on. Dr Erkin Sidick, a Uyghur American who is the President of the Uyghur Projects Foundation, claims that “This isn’t indoctrination, it’s eradication,”  He goes on to assert that “the situation is much, much worse than what is being reported. The Uyghur people have disappeared. Death is everywhere right now.” Sidick maintains that sources within the Chinese government told him that President Xi commited to  “kill one-third of all Uyghurs, lock up one third, and convert one third.” If any of these assertions are true, what is happening to the Uighur people would certainly qualify as genocide.

The genocide charge against the Chinese government ramped up even more when it was disclosed that Huawei worked with facial recognition software company, Megvii, on a Uighur facial recognition system which would link to government law enforcement databases.

Other software companies have been drawn into this genocide project. A fever-detecting camera developed by Dahua didn’t detect fevers at all. They simply posed as such so that they could take photos of numerous people who could then be identified as Uighurs.

And e-commerce site. Alibaba, even offered Uighur Recognition as a Service. Apparently, anyone could opt for the service if they paid the fee.

But this could never happen in the U.S., right? Well, not exactly. Mosques have been the targets of surveillance before, both by federal and local law enforcement agencies. Such surveillance is always justified under the banner of protecting against terrorist attacks. But the new ‘terrorists’ appear to be on the right, especially after the January 6th scene at the Capitol Building. The F.B.I. has limitations on its use of facial recognition. In fact, the limits on the use of facial recognition vary with location. Many cities are allowed to use drivers license databases and some even use Ring doorbell technology The F.B.I. certainly can see if a person involved in a crime is part of their mugshot database or has a photo on other government sites, such as those having passport databases. However, there are ways to extend this database. In the January 6th event, private facial recognition companies, such as Clearview, worked to identify participants and then passed this information on to the F.B.I. Clearview has a photo database that dwarfs that of the F.B.I. It seems they use alumni site photos, social media profile photos, such as those on Facebook, and other online posts.

Currently, there seems to be an all out attack on the right, so much so that it may soon be relegated to a persecuted minority. But are there apps that can identify Trump supporters? Sure. Some are obvious and some are not. Law enforcement knows what sites those on the right visit and they can access their databases either directly or indirectly. If Trump supporters are now considered as potential domestic terrorists, as some in the media are insinuating, then surveillance and data collection can be justified. Any social media site can be required to give data on specified users. The Parler database can be accessed by Amazon, since they hosted the site, and both Google and Apple would have information on who downloaded the Parler App as well as other pro Trump apps. If anyone who participated in the January 6th Washington DC event is considered a domestic terrorist, then using facial recognition technology can be justified. Now, there are calls for those who voted for Trump to be deprogrammed. Okay, but that has to be where the comparison with China ends. Surely, no one in the U.S. would suggest putting Trump supporters in re-education camps right?


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