Xpeng apologizes for illegal collection of facial images after penalty
Published: Dec 14, 2021 09:13 PM
A view of Xpeng's G3 model in an experience store in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province in December Photo: VCG

A view of Xpeng's G3 model in an experience store in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province in December Photo: VCG

Chinese electric vehicle (EV) firm XPeng Motors on Tuesday apologized for the illegal collection of 430,000 facial images of visitors to its stores over a six-month period, after the company was fined by market regulators for the illegal behavior and prompted harsh criticisms on Chinese social media, where many called for tougher regulatory actions and full rectification.  

In a statement sent to the Global Times, the company said that all data involved had been deleted without leaks or the illegal use of personal information. 

The statement came after its Shanghai-based company was fined 100,000 yuan ($15,716.6) by local market regulators for illegal collection of over 430,000 photos of consumers' faces without their consent from January to June this year.

The issue topped search trends on China's social media Sino Weibo on Tuesday. Many netizens expressed anger about the company's illegal performance, urging authorities to intensify crackdowns on companies that illegally collect private information.

According to a notice for the penalty, the company purchased 22 cameras with facial recognition functions and installed them in its stores, so as to count the number of people entering the stores and analyze the proportion of people by gender and age. 

The firm did not inform consumers of the data collection and its use, nor did it ask for their permission, which violated the Consumer Rights Protection Law, analysts said.

Xpeng explained in the statement that the store in Shanghai wanted to improve the reception service by collecting and analyzing data on consumers, but due to unfamiliarity with relevant laws, it mistakenly purchased and used products from a third-party supplier that violated the law.

The related data, collected and analyzed by a third-party provider, has been completely deleted without leakage or illegal use of personal information, the company said, adding that the Shanghai stores removed all the collection equipment on March 18, before the inspection of the local market regulator.

Xpeng is not the first company to be punished for illegally collecting customers' facial information in China. On March 15, the World Consumer Rights Day, China Media Group (CMG) reported that more than 20 stores, including Kohler and BMW 4S, had installed cameras with facial recognition functions to collect facial data without consumers' consent.

"Facial data is highly sensitive personal information. Once leaked, it will cause great harm to personal and property security," Zhao Zhanling, a legal counsel at the Beijing-based Internet Society of China, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Zhao said that before collecting such data, the merchant should ask for consumers' permission and inform them of the use of the data. The procedure of Xpeng violated consumers' right to know as well as their privacy, he said.

In July, the Supreme People's Court issued a ruling on facial recognition, stipulating that the illegal use of such technology for facial verification, identification or analysis in public places, including hotels and shopping malls, should be deemed to be an infringement of the personal rights and interests of individuals.

Zhao called on the company to carry out self-inspection in order to avoid similar illegal activities in its other stores, as well as strictly complying with national regulations on the protection of consumers' personal information to ensure their legitimate rights and interests.

Global Times