China is monitoring children with connected pens… the reality becomes Black Mirror

News hardware China is monitoring children with connected pens… the reality becomes Black Mirror

It’s an open secret, China is not a country known for its respect for privacy. The latest revelation making the rounds of the internet concerns an object that the regime has given to its schoolchildren: a connected pen that monitors children in class and at home. In its use of technology, the Chinese government is very reminiscent of the Netflix series Black Mirror…

All the information you need to know about the Chinese connected pen that monitors children

From the start of the 2022 school year, Chinese children will receive a pen. Innocent in appearance, the object is actually a concentrate of tech capable of transmit to teachers the slightest note taking in real time (at school and at home) but also… film toddlers.

This pen has been in development for several years now. The test phase in Shanghai and Yuunan province is finally complete: all the students primary and secondary (or at least a maximum) will be entitled to their connected pen from the end of August.

For the Minister of Education in China, the establishment of this new system of techno-surveillance is there only to facilitate the “homework management” and for one “scientific use”.

Local criticism is not completely silent since local newspapers denounce the ethical problem posed by these smart pens.

Photo of Joseph Chan during the 2019 Hong Kong protests

When China approaches Black Mirror: the mass surveillance pen is anchored in a particular context

Chinese men and women have understood for some time that Big Brother is watching them. For most people there, Chinese government surveillance has become commonplace.

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As early as the 2008 Olympics, it was already China that introduced facial recognition cameras to the world.. Since then, Beijing has invested astronomical sums, 60 billion per year, in artificial intelligence to push mass surveillance ever further. There is hardly than the United States to compete in this technological race.

Just before the health crisis, the world was already stunned with the establishment of the famous social credit for the 1 billion 400 million Chinese. Social credit is a note that every Chinese citizen has. If this score is low, the person may have their rights withdrawn. If it is high, the person has social economic advantages.

Shanghai, an ultra modern city. By Edward He

China is monitoring children with connected pens... the reality becomes Black Mirror

More than a billion surveillance cameras are installed across the country. And not just any cameras.

The Chinese are stuck. Whether at a vending machine, in a restaurant or at the entrance to a store, most Chinese people have to scan their face (with a smartphone or otherwise) several times a day. Thanks to this huge database, the cameras placed throughout the city are able to identify a person very precisely, even in the middle of a large crowd.

Some cameras go even further. More and more machines can recognize people by their gait, for example. Better (or worse, depending on the point of view), a bit like Minority ReportChina uses its cameras to prevent crime. A sudden change in body temperature detected by a thermal camera can be a sign. These same thermal cameras could be used during the health crisis to identify the sick.

In short :

  • The smartphone of a Chinese geolocates him permanently and provided its data to the government.
  • The population is noted depending on his behavior.
  • Faces and bodies are scanned and analyzed on a daily basis.
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This list is not exhaustive. To stay within the school theme, we can, for example, talk about cameras that analyze pupils’ emotions, helmets that measure the level of concentration or chips in the collars of shirts to track children.

All this may remind us of Black Mirror, we must remember that, there, this control strategy does not shock very little. On the contrary, it is even quite valued by the population.

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