If people who venture into one public Chinese bathroom — in the city of Jinan — have a feeling like they’re being watched, there may be a good reason for it.
Local officials in the capital of China’s Shandong province have installed a facial recognition technology system onto the bathroom’s toilet paper dispenser, an effort to cut down on people who come into the bathroom to steal toilet paper. As Russian media outlet Sputnik reports, the dispenser is able to detect if someone is a “repeat customer” in the bathroom and can restrict toilet paper usage accordingly.
“It works like this: the person walks up to the machine and has their face scanned, and then the dispenser gives them about 27 inches of toilet paper, NTDTV reported,” the report details. ‘To get another round of paper, users have to wait nine minutes and have another facial scan.”
“The dispenser can reportedly tell if it is a new person using it or a returning user.”
The bathroom appeared to be one of the first to implement a technology that had been developed to help bathrooms cut down on waste — so to speak. As the CBC reported last year, this technology has been initially aimed at popular tourist destinations in an effort to keep the bathrooms as clean and efficient as possible. The idea is to restrict toilet people to people who may be coming back too frequently, ensuring that a sufficient amount remains to take care of the high traffic in these tourist areas.
The new technology has attracted some international attention, with a number of news outlets picking up on the strange addition to the restroom.
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The technology has also become an attraction unto itself, tourism officials said.
“Today in China, people are highly enthusiastic about tourism, and we have entered a new era of public tourism,” said Zhan Dongmei, a researcher with the China Tourism Academy. “The expectation of the public for the toilet is becoming higher.”
The facial recognition technology being employed in Chinese bathrooms also aims to help make more money for the country. As the CBC report noted, the cleanliness of bathrooms is taken into account when the National Tourism Authority gives out ratings for attractions. That has put cleanliness as a top priority at places like Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, where officials have tried to cut down on the number of people who take wads of toilet paper for personal use — later personal use, to be specific.