If you saw a science fiction movie in which people were required to get facial scans before wiping their butts, you would probably roll your eyes. But for people who use a heavily-trafficked public toilet in Beijing, that is literally what happens. The bathroom is now equipped with a face-scanner that dispenses toilet paper rations, in order to fight theft.
Apparently, the scanner was installed in response to a problem with elderly people stealing toilet paper. A funny situation turned eerily Orwellian. If you want to use the bathroom, you now have to stand in front of the scanner with a bare head – no hats or glasses allowed. After the device records an image of your face, it will dispense your toilet paper. But only if you haven’t logged too many visits to the bathroom in the recent past.
If you pass the test, you are given sixty centimeters of toilet paper to get the job done. That’s just under two feet. Measure that out and ask yourself if it’s adequate. And if it isn’t, you’re made to wait a minimum of nine minutes before you can appeal for extra paper.
Obviously, not everybody (nobody) is happy about the bathroom scanner. It poses pretty serious questions about privacy, and is just, well, bad. One person wrote on Sine Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, “I thought the toilet was the last place I had a right to privacy, but they are watching me in there, too.”
As if the bathroom scanner weren’t insulting enough, it apparently doesn’t even work that well. It’s already suffered from multiple software glitches that have caused long waits for toilet paper. Not a great situation to be in. Or one that leaves you with much dignity. Sometimes, the scanner just breaks entirely, leaving bathroom attendants to ration out the toilet paper face-to-face.
When the scanner was first introduced, an attendant had to come into the bathroom with you before you did your business, to explain how the machine worked.
Despite its unpopularity, there’s no indication that the camera system will be revoked or replaced with something less awful. Beijing is one of the most surveillance-happy places in the world. In fact, it might be the most heavily-surveilled city in the world. Beijing police claim that 100% of the city is covered by security cameras. There are approximately 46,000 security cameras across Beijing, watched by 4,300 officers.
The toilet scanners are part of China’s push to increase tourism. The Chinese government has undertaken a roughly $275 billion USD “toilet revolution,” aimed at refitting about 100,000 public restrooms with luxury features like WiFi, sofas and ATMs.