Time To Worry About Facial Recognition?

Category: Privacy

Facial recognition software has been a simmering privacy concern for over a decade. Cameras may be scanning your face and noting your presence, in public places, stores, and even in church! Is it time to start worrying seriously about this Big Brother surveillance technique? Read on for some startling facts...

Is Facial Recognition Going Too Far?

You might not realize it, but cameras are everywhere now. And as facial recognition software gets more sophisticated, it's sharpening the proverbial two-edged sword. Of course we want to be able to identify criminals, but what about the rest of us, simply going about our business?

Consider this: facial recognition systems are being sold to churches, to track members who attend services and other events. Churchix is a "face recognition event attendance application" that can identify attendees via videos and photos.

Facebook has developed sophisticated facial recognition software and applies it to every photo uploaded by its billion-plus members. A new Facebook app, called Moments, even finds photos of you on other people’s mobile devices and shares them among your friends.

Facial Recognition Software

Google claims its FaceNet system is the most accurate and comprehensive facial recognition application ever. It not only correctly identified 86% of the faces in a test database of 260 million images, it also correlated information about each individual from Google’s massive dossiers collection. FaceNet is still in the Goog’s labs, but it will be put to real-world use in the not-distant future.

Face First is quietly selling its facial recognition systems to retailers, enabling them to automatically generate alerts when known shoplifters or “litigious shoppers” enter their stores. This application also tells store staff when a “preferred customer” comes in, so they can quickly fawn over him. But it’s still creepy.

Drawing a Line

Recently, a friend told me that he entered a nightclub and the doorman demanded to scan his driver’s license. Why? “The owner wants to know who’s in his building.” He left and won’t be going back. Of course, law enforcement has been quietly using facial recognition technology for many years.

Where do we, the people being recognized and tracked by computers, draw the line? Eighteen months ago, a working group of stakeholders in facial recognition was convened by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a division of the Commerce Department. Its goal was to hammer out a voluntary code of conduct for commercial users of facial recognition technology that respected consumers’ privacy. It didn’t go so well.

All nine consumer privacy advocate organizations left the group on June 16, 2015. The groups that left included the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action and Consumer Watchdog.

They walked out because, in their views, the commercial stakeholders adamantly refused to include an “opt-in” protocol in the code of conduct. “Opt-in” means that facial recognition is not permitted unless a person affirmatively agrees to it. The commercial stakeholders, especially Facebook, insisted on an “opt-out” protocol, in which facial recognition is enabled by default and a person must figure out how to refuse it.

The code of conduct is voluntary, so no company is required to adopt it. But those who do must comply with it or face enforcement action from the Federal Trade Commission.

As things stand, only Facebook and its commercial cronies are working on a code of conduct for facial recognition. If the NTIA adopts their idea of what’s fair to consumers, we may all be in trouble. There is no federal law regulating facial recognition or consumer tracking.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Time To Worry About Facial Recognition?"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Ken Maltby
18 Jun 2015

Last week we traveled to Mexico from Vancouver. United Airlines had a stop in Chicago and, to continue my journey to Mexico, we were made to line up, have our photos taken electronically/digitally - alongside a passport scan! We had no choice. So why is the US allowed to do this?


Posted by:

Dick Maier
18 Jun 2015

My question is "Why". What do they need the information for? If it will not benefit the public, what use is it to them, other than to us it to sell to someone else. Another example of corporate greed.

There is too much intrusion into our privacy now. I try to stay away from Google Search because they track everything I search for and eventually I get a spam email from some outfit that deal in a similiar product I was looking for. I assume this is true of all search engines.


Posted by:

Ivan
18 Jun 2015

I understand why they say they have to do this, but is is working, not very well. I am against it totally and it is nothing more than snoopery on the American People, scan those from foreign countries but stop the snooping on Ammericans. The federal government always goes too far. The airlines security is laughable and moronic as they do not even follow their own protocol...this is all i have to say about it, sings of the times, there is evil everywhere, just be careful....


Posted by:

biglost
18 Jun 2015

Ken, when you buy a ticket, any ticket, you enter into a contract that you agree to all the things they don't tell you about, and using the ticket tells them to go ahead and enforce all aspects of the contract, of course because you don't know about the extent of the contract you signed by buying/using the ticket , it is null and void; but you don't know that...,that's how they get away with it...., fine print.


Posted by:

Karena
18 Jun 2015

Dick: Try DuckDuckGo (https://duckduckgo.com/). Real privacy, and excellent search results.

Have you ever looked at the scripts that are running on the websites you visit? (I use noscript for Firefox.) Google and Facebook, especially, have their grubby little scripts running on almost every site! Slows your browsing and tracks your history.

*I'm not associated with either of the services I mentioned, they are just the ones I use.


Posted by:

Frank Starr
18 Jun 2015

Why? Follow the money! Despite what homeland security advocates say, commercial companies are pushing this everywhere. I'm certain there's hoards of lucre for them in this.
Just behaving hasn't helped hundreds of innocents extraordinarily rendered. Some of them are trying to bring lawsuits for this even now.
It looks like the only protection will be anti-technology: things to wear to scramble things like facial recognition programs. If commercial outlets refuse to serve you, boycott them, and enlist the help of orgs like public citizen and daily kos to let loose a flood of protests against this.


Posted by:

IanG
18 Jun 2015

Thanks for another excellent article, Bob. You just reminded me why I never joined Facebook :)


Posted by:

Denis
18 Jun 2015

As with all new technology today it is balance between information and freedom.We are still learning how to deal with it.Someone will learn how to counteract this,with opposing tech.Have fate in the ingenuity of humans.


Posted by:

Darcetha
18 Jun 2015

Denis makes a valid point. He stated that with all technology today, it is balance between information and freedom. We are still learning how to deal with it. Someone will come up with a solution to this.


Posted by:

Glen
18 Jun 2015

But what is not very good camera work is the ones in banks,big market stores,and streets. Many are blurry and it is hard to recognize any perpetrators.


Posted by:

Wayne Hathaway
18 Jun 2015

I think this discussion confuses the two different concepts of PRIVACY and ANONYMITY. All of the examples (church attendance, evaluating shoplifting likelihood, etc) involve activities in PUBLIC places. There is no right to privacy when you are in a public place. The only thing computers add is EFFICIENCY -- it is now a lot harder to be anonymous in public. For example, I would bet store detectives have been following suspected shoplifters since there were stores. It's just that now it can be done much more efficiently. And as the Luddites found out, trying to stop efficiency is indeed a doomed quest.

Now I will admit that stuff like searching postings and broadcasting information about individuals from them is a little weird. Most people going about their business in public spaces are really NOT prepared to find themselves in the Evening Times! But paparazzi have been doing this forever and I don't know of any "right to privacy in public spaces" argument against them.


Posted by:

Jay
18 Jun 2015

Where DID I leave my big black glasses with the fake nose and bushy moustache?


Posted by:

David Lagesse
18 Jun 2015

Government NSA spyware on new computers?
Our new Dell has a "Face Recognition" app for logging in on the computer and it also is supposed to work on some websites, and is called "FastAccess Facial Recognition"
Nothing like training computers to recognize your own facial features, for the NSA spy agency, so that wherever you go, where there is a surveillance camera, whether you walking down a street, or driving in your car, they know who you are, what you're doing and where you are…. they know!
I uninstalled this program twice, deleted the install file, then after a few days, it then self-downloaded again and reinstalled itself automatically without any help or assistance from us!
Then I ‘Disabled’ the program, with an on-board disabling app, inside the program…. Of course, the next time you reboot, it automatically enables itself!
But a little piece of paper over the camera does work wonders!

We are constantly being asked by a popup to get a "Microsoft Account" this requires you to go on-line, and give out your Computer’s NAME and personal computer log-on PASSWORD!

Then I downloaded an app for my new "G Drive" backup hard drive, to install the app, it’s the same thing again, to go on-line, and give out your Computer’s NAME and personal computer log-on PASSWORD!

Guess what? I did not do that, and uninstalled the program!


Posted by:

JAY
18 Jun 2015

The behave yourself remark above is why facial recognition is so dangerous. The remark reveals a short sighted (no intention to offend) view. Sure facial recog can be used to track terrorists, shoplifters, litigious shoppers, cheaters, deadbeats, etc. But, in the wrong hands it can be used to go after those who behave themselves. If a government department is taken over by the wrong hands or hacked, then the bad guys may go after the well behaved. To paraphrase an old quote, once you have dismantled the barriers to catching the bad guys you will notice that many of those barriers served your protection and they are now gone, unable to protect you.
One other related point. Technology is enabling many to do things "because they can." We flew to the moon and back because we could. That was good. But, not all accomplishments are good. Some are questionable. Some are bad.
They use facial recog because they can, but like splitting the atom, it can have good uses and bad. Intentional and unintentional.
We could feel relieved if congress worked together to promulgate sound rules or encourage government agencies to do so. But, our partisan congress accomplishes very little and its inability resonates through government agencies.
Take drones, for instance. There are no clear rules yet on the use of drones other than some basic safety regulations, for which there are exemptions already.
Would it be science fiction or present technology for someone to use facial recognition to find you and then track you with drones? Even if you were well behaved?
Those are the type of questions we should start the dialogs with. This facial recog technology can be misused easily by anyone with a computer and they can be in other countries using it remotely. Businesses want this and government spy agencies want this, but do we want it?
J


Posted by:

RandiO
19 Jun 2015

At an event to launch his company's new Jini technology, on Monday night (January 26, 1999), during his speech to a group of reporters/analysts, the Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy of Sun MicroSystems said that consumer privacy issues are a "… red herring,…" "You have zero privacy anyway,…" "Get over it."

I think a revised 21st Century spelling is in order for this word and I nominate "Preyevsee" (|Pry|Prey|EYE|Vs.|See|).


Posted by:

George
19 Jun 2015

Frank Starr, "If commercial outlets refuse to serve you, boycott them" The problem is they're already boycotting you, so you're too late.


Posted by:

John R
19 Jun 2015

Unless a person is out in public, basically if someone records another person without that person being informed they are being recorded and that recording is shared with a third party without the person who was recoded giving their permission, their constitutional right of privacy is violated. It is that simple. Yet when lawyers become involved the defense lawyers will purposely, with the intention of malice, make it as complicated as they can in order to allow the perpetrator of the crime to be permitted break the law. Sadly that is the system of justice in this country.


Posted by:

Patrick McDonald
20 Jun 2015

The Police State, which "couldn't happen here" arrived here a few years ago. Those who revealed this mass surveillance are either in prison or in exile. Welcome to Atlantica.


Posted by:

jd
07 Jul 2015

Hi Bob. Just thinking out loud here. Wondering what you and/or your other readers think about the effectiveness of an attempt by a large number of Facebook members to poison the well,so to speak, by uploading many misidentified photos of friends who have already been correctly identified.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Facebook has a billion members. I can't see this effort amounting to more than a drop of water in the ocean.


Posted by:

Storm
01 Oct 2016

I had a picture of my 13 year old granddaughter. I asked Google Photos to find all pictures of her. Included in the results were pictures before she was 2!


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