Elderly Chinese toilet paper thieves face up to their crimes

Stephen Chen
Tourists visit Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China.
Fred Dufour | AFP | Getty Images

Some public toilets in Beijing are using facial recognition technology to stop toilet paper theft, the Legal Evening News reports.

At the Temple of Heaven, one of the capital's busiest tourist sites and a former hotbed of toilet paper kleptomania, a user in need of tissue paper must stand in front of a wall-mounted machine with a high definition camera.

The device's software remembers recent faces, and if the same a person reappears within a certain period, it refuses to activate the automatic roller.

The current setting per person is 60cm of paper within nine minutes.

For years many residents have been taking reams of paper from public toilets for use at home. Recently, mainland media outlets investigated the phenomenon and found most of the tissue bandits were senior citizens.

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Such behaviour has placed a considerable financial burden on public toilet management. Sometimes a newly replenished roll can disappear within a minute, leaving other users an empty holder.

The Temple of Heaven management said they also provided old-school rollers because not all visitors were accepting the new technology.

The facial camera required a user to remove their hat and sunglasses. It prompted concerns about infringement of privacy, and the face recognition processing time, which is only meant to be three seconds, sometimes takes more than a minute, which is an added frustration for someone who is in a hurry to use the loo.

The smart toilet paper machine has prompted quite a discussion on mainland social media. Most people agree that the behaviour should be stopped.

But a few said the public shouldn't get too wound up over the issue.

"The cheap paper in public toilet contains lots of toxic materials such as fluorescent agents. Excessive use will only damage their health," said a user on WeChat.

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