When you post a photo to Facebook and the platform automatically tags people in the image, you might not think much about the technology behind the convenience. However, when you find out that facial recognition technology could follow you without your permission as you walk down a London street, it can make you question the invasion of your privacy. As with any other new technology, facial recognition brings positive and negative with. Since it’s here to stay and grow, it’s good to be aware of the pros and cons of facial recognition.
What is facial recognition and how does it work?
Facial recognition is a biometric technology that uses distinctive facial features to identify a person. Allied market research expects the facial recognition market to reach $ 9.6 billion by 2022. Today it is used in a variety of ways: unlocking your phone, going through airport security, shopping for products in stores and in the case of artist and musician Taylor Swift, it was used to identify whether her known stalkers walked through the door during her concert at the Rose Bowl in May 2018.
Today we are inundated with data of all kinds, but the plethora of photo and video data available provides the data set required to make facial recognition technology work. Facial recognition systems analyze visual data and millions of images and videos created by high quality Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras installed in our cities for security, smartphones, social media and other online activities. The software’s machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities mathematically map identifiable facial features, look for patterns in visual data, and compare the new images and videos to other data stored in facial recognition databases to determine identity.
Benefits of facial recognition
One of the main advantages of facial recognition technology is safety and security. Law enforcement agencies use technology to find criminals or to locate missing children or seniors. In New York, the police were able to apprehend an accused rapist using facial recognition technology within 24 hours of an incident in which he threatened a woman with rape at the threat of a knife. In cities where police don’t have time to help tackle petty crime, business owners are installing facial recognition systems to observe people and identify topics of interest when they visit their stores.
Airports are increasingly adding facial recognition technology to security checkpoints; the US Department of Homeland Security anticipates that it will be used on 97% of travelers by 2023. When people know they are being watched, they are less likely to commit crimes, so the ability to use facial recognition technology could deter crime.
Since no contact is required for facial recognition as is the case with fingerprints or other security measures, facial recognition offers a fast, automatic and seamless verification experience. There is nothing like a key or ID that can be lost or stolen.
Facial recognition can add convenience. As well as helping you tag photos on Facebook or your cloud storage through Apple and Google, you’ll start to be able to checkout in stores without withdrawing money or credit cards – your face will be scanned. At the AI Bar, facial recognition technology is used to add customers who approach the bar to a queue to have their drinks served more efficiently.
While possible, facial recognition technology is hard to fool, so it can also help prevent fraud.
Disadvantages of facial recognition
The biggest drawback of facial recognition technology in the opinion of most people is the threat to an individual’s privacy. In fact, several cities have considered or will ban the use of real-time facial recognition surveillance by law enforcement agencies, including San Francisco, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Following. These municipalities determined that the risks of using the technology outweighed the benefits. Police can still use images from personal devices like Nest cameras to find criminals; it just doesn’t allow government entities to use live facial recognition software.
While London King’s Cross uses facial recognition, London is also at the forefront of democratic societies in its technology test. At test events, the city hopes to determine the accuracy of the systems while also working on how to deal with individuals who cover themselves up to hide their identities from cameras and other issues. In addition, democratic societies must define the legal basis for experiencing facial recognition of the general population, and when the widespread use of technology is justified.
Technology is not as good at identifying people of color and women as white men. One of the reasons for this is that the dataset the algorithms are trained on is not as robust for people of color and women. Until this is rectified, there are concerns about the ramifications of misidentifying people with technology.
Additionally, there are issues that need to be addressed that can disrupt technology when a person changes their appearance or the camera angle is not quite right (although they are working to be able to identify a person only by their earlobe). It is improving considerably; based on independent testing by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) facial recognition systems have become 20 times better at finding a match in a database over a period from 2014 to 2018.
Another potential downside is the storage of sensitive personal data and the challenges that come with it. Just last week we had the new that a database containing facial scans used by banks, police forces and defense companies has been breached.
In order to benefit from the positive aspects of facial recognition, our society will face significant challenges for our privacy and civil liberties. Will individuals accept the invasion of their privacy as an appropriate cost for being more secure and for the convenience offered by facial recognition?