Have you ever noticed your friends being tagged automatically after you upload a group picture? Well, that’s how facial recognition technology works. Though the technology has now gained widespread attention, its history can be traced back to the 1960s. Woodrow Wilson (Woody) Bledsoe, an American mathematician and computer scientist, is one of the founders of pattern and facial recognition technology. Back in the 1960s, he developed ways to classify faces using gridlines. A striking fact was, even during the experimental and inception phase, the application was able to match 40 faces per hour. Today, facial recognition technology has advanced to a level that it has permeated our day-to-day life activities. Several tech giants are implementing this technology to change the way we live, travel and shop. For instance, today, major players have successfully equipped facial recognition applications in smartphones for security purposes. Along with fingerprint sensors, facial recognition is another secure and convenient option for users today. Apart from that, this technology has become ubiquitous for securing homes. Security cameras with facial recognition features can identify familiar faces and alert homeowners upon detecting unknown people. These surveillance cameras will improve security levels in safeguarding homes, don’t you feel?
All of these look so appealing and exciting, right? Nevertheless, it can scare us too. Like any other technology, there are flaws in facial recognition too. The dangers of facial recognition can act as a barrier for future evolution or advancement of the technology.
The Working of Facial Recognition
By definition, facial recognition is software that identifies human faces using cutting-edge technologies like AI, ML and DL. And how does that work? Here’s a simplified explanation:
What happens when we see a person? Our eyes collect the visuals and send it to the brain for processing. The brain then analyzes the visuals, checks whether the person is known or a stranger, and sends a response. Upon receiving the signals, we then act accordingly. Similar is the case with facial recognition software. The only difference is that it works on an algorithmic and computational scale.
The recognition technology performs two important methods - data acquisition and data matching. This technology is based on a database that has facial information of many people for later comparison. The recognition technology:
captures images or videos
reads the geometric measurements of the face
calculates a mathematical formula for the captured face
compares it with the image in the database.
Now the question arises, how exactly does facial recognition tech pose dangers to us? Let's take a deep dive to know.
The Dangers of Facial Recognition
For facial recognition technology to work efficiently, data is necessary. And hence, facial recognition databases are stuffed with a voluminous amount of facial information of people worldwide. However, how do companies collect such large troves of data? Do they ever ask our consent before collecting and storing our data? No, right? And here’s where the problems arise.
In their effort to make facial recognition software more reliable and accurate, companies try to collect more and more data from different sources. Apart from this, they also collect real-time data from surveillance cameras. However, people are never asked before collecting data that they would never want to share. Here’s an example:
JetBlue Airways Corporation, a major American airline passenger carrier, uses facial recognition tech for streamlining and innovating the boarding process. Passengers are no longer required to wait for hours in long queues to carry out the boarding process. Besides, there is no need for carrying legal documents and passports. The airport uses facial recognition tech to scan passengers’ faces at check-in, bag drops and pickups and boarding. This tech indeed satisfies the hunger needs for comfort and convenience of passengers.
However, despite the benefits, facial recognition technology raises privacy concerns for passengers. Airlines will capture passenger photographs and then compare it with the information that is stored in the database (photos shot during the passport and visa application process). The pictures that are captured by facial-scanning systems are inevitably saved in the digital world without passengers’ permission. Isn't that a privacy trap created by airlines for the sake of offering a convenient and hassle-free flying experience?
Though facial recognition is used extensively for strengthening the security in multiple areas, the technology falls short at being secure from hackers.
The data that the facial recognition software captures gets stored in the cloud. And we all know that the data in the cloud is vulnerable to breaches. Cybercriminals, with the help of sophisticated technologies, have become smarter with their hacking techniques. What if these malicious actors, by any chance, gain control over the database, get access to exploit it, and steal the facial information? What if these players utilize the data for illegal purposes? What if hackers sell the data to others who have criminal intent? All of these can present security dangers to us, don’t you think?
No technology is 100 percent accurate and efficient, we all know that. And facial recognition tech is no different. There could be chances of this technology making false claims, which can then lead to undesirable consequences. Something similar occurred quite recently in New York.
Ousmane Bah asserted that his identity was wrongly used by someone who was busted stealing $1,200 worth of merchandise from an Apple store in Boston. The identity documents that the actual criminal had included were Bah’s very personal information, except for his picture. The accused believes that the tech giant, Apple, thought Bah as a culprit for this offensive activity. Apple then utilized the data collected from their facial scanning systems and mistakenly identified Bah as the actual criminal. Bah then filed a 1 billion-dollar lawsuit against Apple for aiding a false case.
Aren’t all of these examples scary? Facial recognition is incredible, yet only if used in the right manner. Hence, not only companies but also governments should consider this problem and find a foolproof solution. And what can be the best solution for combating the dangers of facial recognition tech? Don’t you think improved governance strategies would work? The sound and effective management of usability, security and integrity of collected data is essential for ensuring ethical practices. With predefined procedure and plans for managing data assets, risks of facial recognition technology can be eliminated. Besides, IT experts in companies should consider developing an infallible security system for strengthening the security boundaries, along with the traditional systems. Further, consent is important. People should be asked for their permission before any of their information is collected and stored. If all of these are practiced well, then the perils of facial recognition technology can be reduced immensely. This way, facial recognition tech can be considered a blessing and not a curse in disguise.
Naveen Joshi is Founder and CEO of Allerin, which develops engineering and technology solutions focused on optimal customer experiences. Naveen works in AI, Big Data, IoT and Blockchain. An influencer with a half a million followers, he is a highly seasoned professional with more than 20 years of comprehensive experience in customizing open source products for cost optimizations of large scale IT deployment.