Canon only allows smiling employees into Chinese office - report

The system was introduced to encourage employees to create a positive atmosphere.
The system was introduced to encourage employees to create a positive atmosphere Photo credit: Getty Images

Camera company Canon has installed an artificial intelligence (AI) system in a Chinese office that only allows access if an employee is smiling, according to the Financial Times (FT).

Canon Information Technology, a subsidiary of the Japanese multinational, installed the system late last year, the FT reported as part of a wider piece on how Chinese companies are surveilling their employees.

The "smile recognition" cameras have multiple uses, from accessing the office, to booking rooms and printing and was designed to bring more cheerfulness into the office after COVID-19, a spokesperson told the Nikkei Asia newspaper.

"We have been wanting to encourage employees to create a positive atmosphere by utilising this system with the smile detection setting 'on'," the spokesperson told Nikkei Asia.

"Mostly, people are just too shy to smile, but once they get used to smiles in the office, they just keep their smiles without the system which created a positive and lively atmosphere."

This move is part of a wider issue where companies are using the technology to augment the management of people, King's College London academic Nick Srniceck told the FT.

"Workers are not being replaced by algorithms and artificial intelligence. Technologies are increasing the pace for people who work with machines instead of the other way around, just like what happened during the industrial revolution in the 18th century."

Spying on employees isn't limited to Chinese companies, though, with one in five companies in the UK either installing technology to snoop on staff or planning to, according to Metro.

That came in the wake of employees working from home during the pandemic, with software logging how long they were taking to reply to messages, checking attendance or even filming them.

In New Zealand, setting up cameras or software to monitor employees should only be done when it's "reasonable", says Government agency Employment New Zealand.

That may be where injury is a risk or theft is a problem, the agency said, with consideration needed to understand how the monitoring could affect the morale and productivity of staff.