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Microsoft denies existence of partnership with Chinese surveillance firm

Updated

Microsoft has denied claims it works with a surveillance firm that monitors China’s persecuted Muslim population.

The US software giant declined the opportunity to deny the existence of an alleged partnership with SenseNets, in light of claims made on the Shenzhen-based firm’s website, before NS Tech published this story on Thursday (14 March). 

But a Microsoft spokesperson has since said that it is not involved in a partnership with the company and that SenseNets used its logo online without its permission. “We have asked for it to be removed,” the spokesperson added. 

SenseNets suffered a data breach last month which revealed it was tracking the whereabouts of more than 2.5 million people in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region.

The revelations came as China faces international condemnation for its treatment of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, with reports that up to 1.5 million Muslims may have been detained in so-called “re-education centres” in the region.

Microsoft has attempted to position itself as an ethical provider of facial recognition software in recent months. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called in January for governments to regulate the technology and prevent a “race to the bottom” among suppliers.

Nadella’s comments came just weeks after Microsoft president Brad Smith warned that “a government could use facial recognition technology to enable continuous surveillance of specific individuals”.

Microsoft is one of very few technology companies permitted to operate in China. While access to Google and Facebook is restricted by the Chinese firewall, it is possible to use Microsoft’s cloud service, as well as LinkedIn.

SenseNets did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: this story has been updated to include Microsoft’s statement.