In just a week, I have read a handful of articles detailing how facial recognition is being used in places that I had been.
While the technology provides lots of pros, it equally has cons. Let’s first explore where it is already being used.
- Airports – JFK now uses facial recognition in place of boarding passes to authenticate passengers in specific flights. In addition to your face being scanned to ensure that it IS actually you flying, they connect to a database of known criminals, and essentially now have you mapped in the database, with your name, address, and other details (all without your consent).
- Shopping Malls – For years shopping malls have been utilizing cellular technology to identify where shoppers go, and how often, etc. Your mobile carrier knows where you sleep and work based on where your phone is during those hours, so it’s no surprise that shopping malls would not tap into facial recognition to identify your gender, age, etc. to serve up advertising. Westfield Mall in the UK, Cadillac Fairview malls in Canada other large malls are now utilizing this technology (without your consent).
- Police – It shouldn’t come as a shock that police use this technology. AI is very sophisticated, and with pinpoint accuracy, criminals can be picked out of crowds very quickly.
- Taylor Swift – She uses facial recognition at her concerts where it snaps photos of people (without their consent) and then cross-checks it against a known database of her stalkers.
- Facebook – They have started rolling out facial recognition in Canada and parts of Europe in an attempt to make their platform more secure. You don’t have to use it, but unfortunately, most people may opt to for the convenience of not needing a password. On the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, one wonders what Facebook would do with this data? Who owns it?
- US Customs and Border Protection – They use this technology, and have been for a while to identify security risks. However they do not have any third party oversight, so when there are issues with how they operate, there’s no external party who can launch an investigation. This past week a database of people’s photos and license plates was compromised (as it was stored on a third party company’s server) and as a result, US Customs and Border Protection hasn’t identified how many people were affected by the breach.
- Banks – Some banks are now using video to film customers when they apply for loans. The films will be used to compare against known facial expressions, etc. to better understand if someone is lying, and how trustworthy they are.
- Home Security Systems – They already can identify an owner and their family, including pets separate from outsiders or others who may enter the home.
- Mobile Devices – Apple for example uses your face as a security measure to ensure it is you, to unlock your phone. The facial recognition features are stored only on the phone, and do not go anywhere else.
Now that we know where it is being used (and this is only a sample of areas), you might ask, so what’s on the horizon? Can you imagine how facial recognition could continue to be rolled out for other purposes like those below?
- Retailers – To identify YOU as the authentic customer making the purchase, thereby not requiring your credit card, because your photo and credit details are linked in a national database.
- Schools/Universities – To identify students have attended classes and to better secure dormitories, as well as provide payment for on-site meals, and other services provided by the institution.
- Government Programs – Any type of government program that requires identification could benefit from these programs where a person could be validated in an instant. This could include voting.
- Hospitals – In an emergency or life-threatening situation, time is of the essence. Imagine how useful it would be when a patient enters the hospital and within moments the doctors and nurses can immediately identify the patient’s allergies, medications and other medical issues.
- Age/Identify (Alcohol, Lottery, Weapons and Cigarette Sales) – Many AI software programs are able to detect very accurately a person’s age. As this software becomes more sophisticated, it can safely ensure that prohibited substances and weapons are not sold to under-age people.
The key issue that we are presently facing is that while facial recognition is being rolled out en-masse, many governments and agencies are slow to respond, and have not drafted any legislation to protect you. Your facial image is critical to you, as it is YOU, your identity. In the wrong hands, this information could be used to gain information about you. Governments are slow to draft legislation because often it’s the industry that drives change, and then legislation often follows – but often YEARS late, when it’s too late.
Brunei, a country in Asia, just made stoning to death the punishment for being gay — imagine how they might use this technology.Haaretz.com – June 5, 2019
Facial Recognition while advantageous, is also extremely dangerous. Used in a different manner, it can be used by businesses, banks, employers to reject someone. Landlords could use this to screen risky candidates. As AI technology improves, it’s only a matter of time before countries that discriminate and ban gays could benefit from the technology. Russia, Brunei, and others have made it very clear that gays are not welcome. There are 7 countries that make stoning to death the punishment for being gay.
This is the tip of the iceberg. We are only just beginning to realize the possibilities (both negative and positive) of facial recognition. If governments do not enact legislation with severe penalties, this will become a runaway train that cannot be stopped. Perhaps it already has.
Photo-Illustration: Konstantin Sergeyev/Intelligencer; Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images