Hikvision Markets Uyghur Ethnicity Analytics, Now Covers Up

By: Charles Rollet, Published on Nov 11, 2019

Hikvision has marketed an AI camera that automatically identifies Uyghurs, on its China website, only covering it up days ago after IPVM questioned them on it.

This AI technology allows the PRC to automatically track Uyghur people, one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Camera Description

The camera is the DS-2CD7A2XYZ-JM/RX, an AI camera sold in China:

Hikvision's product description states this camera supports Uyghur recognition (screenshot via Google Translate):

Below is the text in Chinese and translated English:

支持分析人员目标的性别属性(男、女),支持分析人员目标的种族属性(如维族、汉族)以及人种肤色属性(如白人、黄种人、黑人);支持分析人员是否戴眼镜、是否戴口罩、是否戴帽子、是否蓄胡子,识别准确率均不低于90%

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Capable of analysis on target personnel's sex (male, female), ethnicity (such as Uyghurs, Han) and color of skin (such as white, yellow, or black), whether the target person wears glasses, masks, caps, or whether he has beard, with an accuracy rate of no less than 90%. [emphasis added]

Hikvision quickly deleted the product page after IPVM inquired about it, the link now shows an error:

The product page had been up for 7 months as Google search results show that it was first indexed in April 2019:

Indeed, the Hikvision page itself said it was last updated (before Hikvision covered it up) on the same date Google returns:

By April 2019, Hikvision was well-aware of the human rights issues surrounding Xinjiang; that same month, they disclosed in their ESG report that they had "recently commissioned an internal review" on the matter.

Uyghur vs Han - China Ethnic Groups

The PRC officially recognizes 56 ethnic groups, which the Chinese ambassador recently described as being 'part of big family of Chinese nation'.

However, Hikvision's analytics only categorizes 2 of those ethnic groups - the largest and the most persecuted.

Han people are the largest ethnic group in the PRC, making up over 90% of the country's population, i.e., what most outside China calls "Chinese people".

Uyghurs are a mostly Muslim people primarily in the Xinjiang region of China. In recent years, the PRC has sent an estimated 1 million Uyghurs into "re-education camps" and built a highly intrusive surveillance state in the region.

Purpose of the Analytic

PRC police are using racial analytics to track Uyghurs/distinguish them from the Han majority, as reported by the New York Times in April. The NYT called this "a new era of automated racism", explaining that:

The facial recognition technology, which is integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras, looks exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review. [emphasis added]

No Other Examples Publicly Shown

IPVM could not find other camera models sold by Hikvision or other PRC manufacturers that explicitly cited Uyghur recognition. However, given how quickly Hikvision covered this up and the sensitivity of this issue, it is reasonable that manufacturers are self-censoring such capabilities even on the Chinese web.

Hikvision's Minority Analytics

This is the second time in 2 years Hikvision has covered up minority analytics.

In May 2018, IPVM reported about Hikvision's minority analytics, which they inadvertently showcased at a conference in China:

In this instance, Hikvision's analytics only tracked "ethnic minority", with no explicit mention of Uyghurs.

However, Hikvision removed that from the 2018 video following IPVM's reporting and then VOA publishing "Technology company Hikvision sees new technology to identify minorities in surveillance video":

Indeed, after that, the New York Times reported that Hikvision had "began phasing [minority analytics] out in 2018". However, as this 2019 Hikvision product shows, that was not the case.

Uyghur Group Calls Out Hikvision's "New Horror"

Louisa Greve, the communications director for the Uyghur Human Rights Project, told IPVM the camera was a "new horror":

AI-enabled racial profiling for cultural extermination is the new horror brought to us by "Made in China" high tech. Through its key role in building China's 24-7 techno-surveillance state in the Uyghur Region, Hikvision is directly complicit in a crime of historic dimensions: Uyghurs' mass internment and torture, and a new network of permanent forced-labor factories.

Fred Hiatt's column in the Washington Post this week referred directly to the defining genocide of the 20th Century: "In China, every day is Kristallnacht." AI-enabled ethno-religious persecution is the CCP's catastrophic invention of the 21st Century.

Human Rights Watch: "Not Permissible"

Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch's senior China researcher, told IPVM that Uyghur analytics are "not permissible from an international human rights perspective", particularly in the PRC:

this is not just racial profiling or prejudice, it's much stronger than that. It's specific targeting of one group of people using automated technology for the purpose of persecution

Hikvision No Comment

Hikvision declined to comment to IPVM about marketing a camera with Uyghur analytics. Hikvision deleted the camera's webpage soon after we inquired about this issue last Friday; IPVM also asked Hikvision why they did this, but we have received no response.

SIA Silent on Analytics, Not Reviewing Hikvision

The Security Industry Association (SIA) provided no response to IPVM about one of its members openly showcasing Uyghur analytics.

We also asked SIA about Hikvision's ongoing membership given that Hikvision was sanctioned for "human rights violations and abuses" against Uyghurs last month. SIA replied:

If and when the Board decides to review the status of any member in the future, if warranted, we will likely issue a statement that you would receive.

This stands in stark contrast to SIA member Aventura Technologies getting charged (but not convicted) of crimes last week, leading SIA to quickly state they were reviewing Aventura's member status, even deleting Aventura's member profile from its website.

PRC On Xinjiang Surveillance

While ethnicity analytics are commonplace in the PRC, they are rarely explicitly brought up or defended. More generally, the PRC has defended extensive surveillance in Xinjiang as "necessary to counter terrorism", per state paper Global Times:

Conclusion

Hikvision and its supporters have long insisted that the company is a mere "product supplier" that cannot control how its cameras are used or where they end up.

While this has always been false, the fact that Hikvision explicitly markets a camera that identifies Uyghurs makes it clearer than ever that Hikvision purposefully contributes to the repression of this embattled minority.

(Photo of Uyghur man by Urbain J. Kinet)

4 reports cite this report:

Hikvision Global News Reports Directory on Dec 02, 2019
Hikvision has received the most global news reporting of any video surveillance company, ever, ranging from the WSJ, the Financial Times, Reuters,...
China Government Spreads Uyghur Analytics Across China on Nov 25, 2019
IPVM has found 12 recent government projects across China (PRC) that require Uyghur analytics and a general government guideline requiring such...
The Cowardly, Greedy "Leaders" of Video Surveillance - SIA on Nov 19, 2019
The video surveillance industry suffers from cowardly, greedy 'leaders' focused on maximizing easy money while undermining public trust. The...
UK Big Brother Watch: Hikvision Is 'Morally Bankrupt' on Nov 13, 2019
UK civil liberties advocate Big Brother Watch has condemned Hikvision as being 'morally bankrupt' following IPVM exposing Hikvision marketing...

Comments (42)

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Charles, good reporting!

Hikvision developing and covering up these discriminatory analytics again is really reprehensible. Hikvision talks about human rights but this shows what they are really doing.

If you are a Hikvision partner, what's your defense of this? Outside of you not caring because you make money off this? Seriously, I'd like to hear.

What makes Hikvision any different than Saudi Aramco? Both are funded and supported by regimes that I believe violate human rights. The Sauds killed a critical journalist and have committed crimes that China is not accused of. Is it OK that they will stone a woman to death just because their religion says it is ok?

The gas that powers our military equipment and all our cars more than likely originates from and benefits the Saudi royal family. Did Saudi Aramco kill people, no. Did Hikvision kill people, no. Do both companies manufacturer and operate facilities that produce equipment or supplies that are used to violate human rights, absolutely.

There are so many bad players out there, and I wish they were all gone and the world was as it should be. If HIK was gone tomorrow, the Chinese would find another way to put up cameras that are being used for horrible purposes.

So John to answer your question... Do you use anything made with Saudi Aramco plastics, or gas from them? Do you use an iPhone created in a factory with inhumane working conditions? I know you cannot stand Hikvision, and I respect that as your opinion. You are passionate about your beliefs, and I admire that level of passion. I just hope it isn't only on Hikvision and carries over to all companies that participate in the violation of human rights.

I do hope Hik does the right thing sooner than later, and I hope all companies do. But I insist the issue isn't with Hik, the issue is with the Chinese government. The same one that profits from everything we buy that is made there, not just security cameras. The Chinese are not allied with the beliefs that I hope we all believe in. Always ironic that the Christmas lights my family will put up on the house next month were made in a country that will persecute Christians.

The global economy :(

Did Saudi Aramco kill people, no. Did Hikvision kill people, no. Do both companies manufacturer and operate facilities that produce equipment or supplies that are used to violate human rights, absolutely.

Wait, you are saying this as a Hikvision dealer? That Hikvision operates facilities that are used to violate human rights?

I thought the issue with Hikvision was that they were operating facilities for the Chinese government, those horrible re-education camps. Is that not the case?

Hikvision is building the surveillance systems, Dahua is building and operating police stations, etc.

I am genuinely curious about your position as a Hikvision dealer, how are you rationalizing profiting off them?

Your counter to me seems to be that lots of companies abuse human rights and that I am a hypocrite if I don't abstain from all such companies, is that a fair summation?

I don't believe the companies themselves are abusing human rights. I believe that all companies that are owned by corrupt and abusive governments should be treated the same. In my opinion, which doesn't matter to anyone other than myself, is that it is the governments that are corrupt in these cases, not the company itself. Anything we do that supports corrupt and violent governments is wrong in my mind.

What upsets me most is when we use American tax dollars and American boys and girls in uniform to protect countries that violate human rights. When our government singles out a few Chinese businesses because of their human rights violations, but turns a blind eye on the Saudi's it frustrates me. American soldiers are not defending Chinese cities and resources. We are not sneaking weaponry into neighboring countries to help the Chinese wage illegal wars like we are in Yemen and SA. Why the double standard? Why is everyone so upset about what is happening in China, but what is happening in other parts of the world doesn't seem to matter?

I do not think the companies themselves are abusing human rights any more than Remington is responsible for deaths caused by the weapons they make. Hikvision and Saudi Aramco are just two examples of businesses who do what their authoritarian regimes demand they do. I just have a harder time justifying the acceptance of what Saudi Arabia does and we put our boys and girls in that country to help protect it. Doesn't make sense to me.

True, the US (and basically every country that buys Gulf oil, which includes top Saudi customer China) supports authoritarian countries and their companies. I'm still not sure exactly why that means it's OK to support PRC companies that do Uyghur analytics.

I think your point boils down to, as John put it, "lots of companies abuse human rights and I am a hypocrite if I don't abstain from all such companies". To me, this seems like whataboutism. Shouldn't the moral thing be to oppose all human rights abuses, and do our best to avoid being complicit?

Last thing you write:

Why is everyone so upset about what is happening in China, but what is happening in other parts of the world doesn't seem to matter?

IPVM covers PRC manufacturers because they are some of the biggest players in this industry. Outside of video surveillance, though, I see lots of coverage of issues like Raytheon selling Saudi bombs, an Israeli company selling spyware around the world, etc.

Most people are only outraged by what the media tells them to be outraged about.

I really think you should stop using the term "re-education" camps and call a spade a spade. To use the PRC's terminology does not do justice to the blatant disregard they have for human rights and the suffering that is going on.

stop using the term "re-education" camps

I added quotes in our reference in this pot. We've referred to them more directly as concentration camps elsewhere: Hikvision Cameras Covering Concentration Camps

Is there news of any other group being held on these camps? If not, I would wager that Christians, political dissidents, etc are next.

Christians, dissidents, and other undesirables do get sent to prison and otherwise are disappeared but I don't think they use the "re-education camps" for anyone other than the Uyghurs (I could be very wrong on this though lol)

This is really bad. I hope this story gets as much traction as the one about the raid. Ignore cybersecurity for a moment—do you really want to provide business for a company like this?

Hikvision literally developed technology to assist discrimination.

Hikvision literally developed technology to potentially assist in genocide.

Fixed that for you.

Many turned a blind eye to the Nazis for a long time as well.

Do we not study history to avoid repeating it?

Outrageous.

UPDATE: We've corrected the illustrations, which originally showed a Hui man. The Hui are also a Muslim minority in China, but they are not the same as Uyghurs. Hui people - Wikipedia

UPDATE: a tech reporter for The Verge tweeted out an IPVM graphic claiming it was a "marketing image from Hikvision". That's not the case and IPVM didn't make that claim in our article. However, this tweet went viral (over 1,000 RTs) and spread to a few other places:

[N] Hikvision marketed ML surveillance camera that automatically identifies Uyghurs, on its China website : MachineLearning

Internet of Shit on Twitter: "holy shit this is so fucked… "

Ethnicity detection camera / Boing Boing

I took out the graphic from our article and tweeted corrections to all of those spreading this. Hikvision definitely marketed a camera that does Uyghur recognition, but our graphic (which was clearly labelled "IPVM") is not Hikvision's.

The tech reporter has now issued a correction.

Thank you for being transparent about this and trying to get things corrected on other sites. The actual facts are so bad that you just can't give Hikvision any excuse to deflect the story as being biased or wrong.

Sadly, they probably will say that anyway.

Is anyone really surprised by this? Does anyone out there really believe that Hikvision and China are the only ones doing AI based racial recognition? Even if not being done in the cameras or NVRs, the analytics can be done on any system that has access to a feed. The media likes to point a finger at China, but realistically, I would be willing to wager that most modern governments are doing the exact same things and worse behind closed doors. Pointing a finger at China who is not trying hard to conceal what they are doing, just creates a convenient distraction from what the other countries are doing. And by no means am I trying to justify what China is doing. Simply pointing out that they are not alone in this behavior.

Ian, you claim that Hikvision/China are "not alone in this behavior", but do you have any evidence at all for this? E.g. one example would be a US security manufacturer selling AI cameras that can track minorities like African Americans or Hispanics, do you have proof of that happening?

Anyvision, from what all sides have said so far is just facial recognition applied to individuals. I am not defending facial recognition but that's different than if Anyvision was doing or marketing an Israeli / Palestinian ethnic analytic, which certainly would create justifiable controversy.

Charles, I am not claiming anything. If I had evidence for this, do you think I would be using this as my forum to launch an investigation? No, I am just commenting on the nature of people, governments and the need for them to control and monitor the masses. Look at what Snowden revealed about the NSA spying on the American people, that was over 10 years ago. My point is this is something that needs to be monitored and brought in to check. The tools we wield in this industry are powerful and have the potential for serious abuse. Especially now that data Analytics is having such a huge push. It is up to the security community and amazing companies like IPVM to keep exposing things like this and to raise the public's awareness.

Pointing a finger at China who is not trying hard to conceal what they are doing

Hikvision immediately deleted it and refused comment as soon as they realized we had found it. That's a great example of trying hard to conceal.

Also, the context is important. The PRC has run an ongoing campaign of 're-eduction' against Uyghurs whose severity is really impossible to compare to any contemporary situation in the EU or US.

Could you imagine the justifiable uproar of any company marketing an American / Mexican analytic?

Hikvision is not China, run by China yes, but they are also a company that is trying to sell a product internationally. So yes, I am sure Hikvision is trying desperately to wipe out existence of that site that slipped by them.

a company that is trying to sell a product internationally.

That's one element, for sure. The other element that has made this so newsworthy is that the company was just sanctioned for human rights abuses against Uyghurs last month. So 5 weeks later, exposing that they are still marketing an Uyghur analytic cuts into their claims about being committed to human rights.

It is honestly terrifying that we are having this discussion. Thankfully IPVM was able to expose this and we are. Because this sort of behavior needs to be stopped. I appreciate how you just now tied those two points about the human rights violations together in such a clear cut manner. I agree.

I am a Hikvision OEM supplier and I admittedly have to say that the more developments that are brought forth about this, the more it bothers me.

Out of all the Hiktroversy's, the re-education camp issue could be the one that does them in unless they decide to actively and openly tackle this issue head on and reverse course some of the actions they took regarding the issue.

Historically, I personally think that all the cyber threat fears and the Chinese Govt subsidization have been way overstated and fear mongored by this site, Hik Haters, and Hik Competitors for the most part, and I have been vocal on such.

But this issue with Human Rights cant be ignored. I cant (and wont) defend this and it bothers me ethically. Hikua should'nt have touched anything regarding the reeducation camps with a 10' poll, much less employed people to run the systems. I wonder if they knew what kind of chitstorm they were getting themselves into.

The only way Hikvision gets out of this is if they openly and actively show what they are doing to reverse as much of this mistake they have made as possible. I think the least they can do is remove the employees running the system. I think at the very least, they are going to have to admit the mistake, and explain what they did to correct the mistake. I know this puts them in a difficult position because of the contract they were awarded with the Chinese Govt, as they may have to renege on some of their committments. I also know how difficult it is for Chinese companies to admit mistakes and show humility. Nonetheless, they are going to have to admit it and not issue the typical vague response that we are all used to. Also, the action needs to happen yesterday, not 2 months from now.

But if they want to remain doing business in the USA, they are going to have to do something other than say "we are investigating it". I can only imagine that if the USA bans them completely, parts of Europe will follow as well.

I hope Hikvision reads this and takes this serious. The problem is, this is beginning to affect our reputation, and more importantly, it has become an ethics issue. If serious and well intended action isnt taken to reverse some of these mistakes, we may have to take actions of our own and consider a phase out plan. I am a small OEM supplier in the grand scheme and the loss of my business could mean very little for Hikvision. But I only speak out because I cant help but think that other Hikvision Suppliers in the USA are beginning to think the same thing as I. And it wont matter if they arent thinking the same thing as I if Hikvision gets completely banned. I honestly cant believe that the reeducation camps havent got more attention than they have. Once it does hit mainstream, and Hik hasnt done anything to fix the issues, they are done. Hope they act soon. This is respectable advice for Hikvision.

I hope Hikvision survives (by doing the right thing). Contrary to what most people think here (most Hik Competitors), I think the industry goes backwards without Hikvision. Its a great product for the end consumer.

With all this being said, the reeducation camps are China's fault. Anytime you buy anything from China, you support their regime. I say this because its going to take alot more to stop the reeducation camps than sanctioning specific companies. Its going to take China-wide actions IMO.

The only way Hikvision gets out of this is if they openly and actively show what they are doing to reverse as much of this mistake they have made as possible.

If I remember correctly their report on the investigation is scheduled for release this month, so we will see what happens.

Covering this up was a bad move. In their defense, neither they nor we expected it would go viral on Twitter among China Hands. So this complicates their work further.

Keep in mind, though, even if the USA totally banned Hikvision, 70%+ of Hikvision's revenue is from the PRC (China) and only ~5% is from the USA. That's why, people close to Hikvision have said in the past, seriously, that the USA may be far more trouble than it's worth for the company.

You can say the same for Europe, maybe the Europeans will object on human rights too, but they are also just a fraction of Hikvision's revenue.

It's too late. Anything now wouldn't be genuine. It would be just to save face.

Why is everyone acting like human rights issues are something new out of China? It was a topic when they were chosen for the Olympics. Remember Kathie Lee Gifford's sweatshop that was big news years ago. What about forced abortions of females when families were only allowed to have one female. Remember the murders of the Taiwanese professors in the early 80s. This really isn't shocking news.

UPDATE: Hikvision is facing further pushback in the UK over their Uyghur ethnicity camera, with UK privacy rights group Big Brother Watch writing on Twitter that it had "asked Hikvision for a meeting" over the issue. They also called Hikvision "a morally bankrupt company whose grotesque surveillance products enable China’s human rights abuses on a huge scale":

In the recent Telegraph article, Big Brother Watch's director also had this to say about Hikvision:

The development of facial recognition cameras that pick out people based on their ethnicity, race and gender is ­unthinkably dangerous. These AI surveillance cameras are perfect tools of oppression. It is disturbing that Hikvision products are used so widely in the UK, and a travesty that we are casually following in China’s footsteps with ­facial recognition cameras and mass surveillance.

There's a sentiment I've heard a few places (including my office) regarding these Chinese companies that goes something like, "Yeah, but did the report talk about the guns aimed at the back of Hikvision/Dahua's head?"*

Could you clarify how much of this Hikvision has control over? Are they being forced to develop whatever technology the government asks for, lest their top executives be considered non-loyal to the party and wake up one day in an education camp themselves?

As far as ethics go, the Nuremburg Trials may be relevant here. Unless the PRC government would actually punish (by which I mean jail time, torture, etc rather than monetary fine or loss of business) Hikvision for not complying, operating under the PRC government's rule is no excuse for Hikvision. The US government may have considered this already when they added Hikvision and Dahua to the Entity List.

(Even if the PRC did threaten physical punishment, I would hope that the people would do some old fashioned civil disobedience. But that's real easy for me to say as I sit on the other side of the world in a significantly safer, freer country. I can't demand that people put themselves in danger.)

I apologize if this discussion has already been had elsewhere.

*This quote is almost word-for-word what my boss said in response to the Dahua video last month.

There's no proof that the PRC government is somehow forcing this on an unwilling/reluctant Hikvision and Dahua. Remember, both companies have benefited enormously from the PRC government's huge spending on security, especially in Xinjiang where they've won over $1 billion in projects.

Not sure why they'd suddenly become conscious of the associated human rights issues and tell the government "no". How did these companies became the largest video surveillance providers in the PRC in the first place? Definitely not by prioritizing human rights.

As one US government report wrote, PRC surveillance providers have risen to the top globally thanks to "robust [PRC] government intervention", including police spending:

The most persucuted minorities are in Iraq, Syria and Afghan

most persucuted minorities

We are not attempting to rank who is 'most persecuted' or discount other persecuted groups as we said "Uyghur people, one of the world's most persecuted minorities."

If you think the Uyghurs are not persecuted that is another issue and I would encourage you to share such thoughts if that is your perspective.

Must we stop using US produced equipment?

#6, Can you elaborate on your question or suggestion here?

Our report has been picked up by various news sources, e.g., German International broadcaster, DW Chinese edition - 一波未平一波又起 海康威视高管遭调查 | 德国之声 来自德国 介绍德国 | DW | 14.11.2019

Also, it made Benedict Evan's 125,000 person newsletter. Evans is a Partner at mega-VC Andreessen Horowitz. He commented:

We disagreed. The response we shared on Twitter:

Who really cares, not sure this is even a thing to consider. I own property and want to identify the persons on it by any means necessary and available.

Scan an eyeball and it's a yellow dude, thanks if that guy steals or robs the place, this will help.
you act like there is an active laser on the camera killing the yellow or black or white guy! it's the natural next thing to identify a person, bigger lips, slanted eyes, round eyes, breast, this is all things we humans use to identify a person, I don't get it there is no bias in theses things. It's what we all look like right?
The government will use it and so will private property owners, freaking move on sounds a little flaky to give a poop, this tech can help stop crime and save lives, we should embrace it.

not un disclosed dealer #69 and LMFAO

BTW ever hear that bad news is still news, HIK thanks you.

NOTICE: This comment has been moved to its own discussion: Hikvision Uyghur Analytics - Who Really Cares, Not Sure This Is Even A Thing To Consider

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