Principles, Trends and Concerns with Facial Recognition Technology 

Brad Smith, technology expert at TurnOnVPN, muses on the ever-prevalent facial recognition technology and its surfacing privacy concerns.

28.07.2020 | contributed by Brad Smith
Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash
Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

Facial recognition technology is fast gaining traction around the world. A lot of countries are slowly introducing it into their police forces, airports, shopping centres, and corporate buildings. The opposition against facial recognition technology from privacy enthusiasts, activists, politicians, and the general populace has however grown due to the adverse effect the technology could have on a democratic society.


How it Works


The way the technology works is not far from the intuitive meanings of the major terminologies in its name when put together. The technology works in three steps:

  • Face Detection: The camera, in conjunction with the software that drives the technology, detects facial images from a picture or video clip. 
  • Facial Capture: After facial images have been identified, the underlying software then converts detected facial features into a mathematical formula called a facial signature. This signature is unique to every face and is then pushed to a database.
  • Face Match: Upon conversion to a mathematical formula, the signature is then run through a search algorithm in order to find a match in the database.

All these operations have been improved over the years in order to work at a very fast pace. 


Major Sectors Utilizing Facial Recognition Technology


Its use has found its way into several sectors. A couple of these are:


  • Health: Strange as it might seem, facial recognition systems have found its way into the health sector, particularly telemedicine. These systems enable health practitioners to determine if their patients are taking their medications as prescribed or if they are responding to treatment. In advanced cases, facial recognition technology help detect the possibility of an individual having a genetic disease. 


  • Retail and Marketing: Personalisation and preference are used to change the way users get products and services rendered to them on the Internet. Retail shops are looking to change users’ shopping experiences by utilizing this technology. Two of the largest tech giants, Amazon and Facebook, have begun using facial recognition in retail systems.

The ability of these systems to capture faces and report the age group and gender of faces can help business owners understand the customers purchasing a certain product. They can either expand their target customers or do better at serving the current ones.


China is Using Facial Recognition Trash Bins to Make Sure People Recycle


  • Finance: Fintech has not only come to take the traditional industry by storm, it is looking to completely oust its practices. Astonishing as it may, selfie payment from Mastercard is now a thing. Alibaba, a Chinese based conglomerate, and KFC, the popular fast-food company based out of America, have been testing selfie payments for 3 years now. Here, the system just takes a facial capture of the customer and payment is made from the person’s bank account.

The industry has been fast moving away from a cash-based society to a cashless society – driven by ATM cards and electronic transfers. Now, it seems like a new move is budding and society will once again move from the use of ATM cards to just biometric verification using Face ID to authorize transactions.


  • Surveillance and Security: This technology has helped several countries in tackling crimes by installing surveillance cameras around their cities. Through this security footage, they can easily scan the clips for criminals and suspects which would help solve cases faster. At airports too, security cameras are used to verify the identities of people coming into a country in order to reduce the risk of international terrorists or wanted individuals to getaway. Smart homes also use this technology and send an alert once an unusual face is spotted. 


Privacy Concerns regarding Facial Recognition Technology


As much as the benefits of this technology are quite numerous, its use by private and government agencies have raised several concerns. Discussed below are some of them:


  • Legal Grey Areas: A lot of countries have no specific laws guiding the use of these recognition systems and a lot of corporations seem to exploit this opportunity – thereby violating basic human rights of consent. On a closer look, most of these facial recognition operators do not seek public consent before using the facial data collected from the public.


  • Principle of Necessity: The human rights principle according to the United Nations states that surveillance should be used only when necessary and when in use, it should be proportionate. It is obvious that the use of this technology, at the rate it is going, is in clear violation of this principle. 


  • Automatic Surveillance: It is enough governments have CCTV cameras installed everywhere but the use of facial recognition technology avails authorities the opportunity to track everyone’s moves as they go about their daily lives and this is clearly a breach of every individual’s privacy.


Brad Smith is a technology expert at TurnOnVPN, a non-profit promoting a safe and free internet for all. He writes about his dream of a free internet and unravels the horror behind big tech.

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