China's Fighting Toilet Paper Thieves with Facial Recognition

Authorities at Beijing's Temple of Heaven recently installed new TP dispensers that record visitors' faces so that no one can hog the Charmin.
March 21, 2017, 11:08pm

Beijing's Temple of Heaven was built in 1420, but its bathrooms are now pretty high-tech. Apparently so many people were stealing toilet paper from the bathrooms at the famous tourist site that authorities felt the need to install toilet paper dispensers equipped with facial recognition, according to the BBC.

Unlike many public toilets in China, which often don't offer toilet paper at all and require people to BYOTP, the Temple of Heaven offered free rolls to anyone who used the facilities, making it a target for thieves. In retaliation, authorities at the park installed six machines—at $720 a pop—that record visitors' faces so that no one can hog the Charmin. In order to get a few sheets from the machine, visitors are required to stare into a screen for three seconds and get their photo taken. If people want to get more toilet paper, they have to wait nine whole minutes before their face can trigger the machine again.

So far reaction to the robotic bathroom attendants has been mixed. According to Chinese Radio International, some are complaining that the machines take too long to roll out the poop paper allotment, and one visitor told the New York Times that they don't distribute enough paper to get the job done. However, one Chinese retiree who visits the park often told CNN that it was money well spent.

"They should have done this decades ago," Zhang Shaomin said.

The robo tissue dispensers are just another salvo in the "toilet revolution" that was announced in China in 2015. The sweeping $1.9 billion program aims to build new potties and upgrade existing public facilities from smelly, disgusting places where most people don't flush to palaces with ATMs, TVs, and sofas. The revolution also includes plans for local authorities to punish those who have poor public-restroom skills, including blacklisting people who refuse to flush.

"Many people spend a lot of time dressing themselves, but they do not spare a second to flush the toilet," Li Shihong, deputy chief of the China National Tourism Administration, told China Daily at the time. "Toilet civilization has a long way to go in China."