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(Global Times) Focus1, a "mind-reading" headband developed by a US-based start-up has sold more than 60 units on China's online marketplace Taobao, and is on the market in other 14 countries, amid controversy that the product is unethical in preying on students' privacy.|
The price of the product ranges from 3,499 to 3,979 yuan ($498-566) on Alibaba's e-commerce platform Taobao. A total of 64 have been sold, while 1,124 consumers have "liked" the product.
According to its introduction, it was developed by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists, and can send signals to show whether the student is focused or not.
BrainCo operates a foreign branch in Boston, the US, and a Chinese branch in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province. Yang Zhangpeng, the company's director of public relations, told the Global Times on Monday that the company had never, and would never, violate students' privacy or monitor brainwave data over time.
The headband is a mature product that has been sold in 15 countries including the US, Italy and the UK, and has been widely used in educational institutes, professional sports training organizations and driving schools to improve concentration and learning efficiency.
"We have sold the product in the Chinese market from the end of last year, while sales in the US market began earlier," Yang said, noting that some Olympic teams, schools, other educational institutes and driving schools in the US have adopted the product and given the company positive feedback about its functions.
"An Italian team that trains racecar drivers in Formula One also uses the headband," Yang said.
The company only collects and analyzes the brainwaves in regions of the brain associated with users' attention. This is done when a user wears the device on their head, and the product provides training courses to help them improve their concentration, Yang said.
"We have special data protection measures. Brain data is one of the core secrets of the company. It is safely stored," Yang noted.
On Sina Weibo, China's microblog equivalent to Twitter, the topic "smart headband priced at nearly 4,000 yuan" became a trending topic on Tuesday morning. Many netizens have shown anger toward the "innovation" as well as its high price.
A Weibo user named "Fuer Jiawa" commented, "Is this product treating schools like zoos and monitoring students like animals?"
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, said that allowing having students wear the headbands would equate to using the students as learning machines. "It's anti-education in disguise of technological innovation," he said.
Earlier, media reports revealed that the products have been tested in two schools in Beijing and East China's Zhejiang Province. The US Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on October 24 accused the product of monitoring students and violating their privacy, without saying that it had been used in US schools.
The report by WSJ even accused parents and teachers in China of valuing education more than personal privacy without investigating, insiders in the education field told the Global Times.
On Friday, after reports, the primary school in Jinhua, Zhejiang halted its trial of the headband.