In case you missed 60 Minutes on CBS the other night, there’s a new challenge to privacy that is coming faster than people realize and was made more urgent by the terror attack in Boston a month ago. The 60 Minutes piece started with the following:
The ability of computers to recognize faces has gotten a hundred times better, a million times faster, and exponentially cheaper, yet facial recognition technology is still a work in progress. Businesses are tapping facial recognition to sell us stuff and computer scientists are upgrading the technology.
60 Minutes’ report spent time describing how images can be turned from blurry to clear, from flat to 3D and for complex programs to use simple features like eyebrows to create a “faceprint” that can be used to identify someone, even when most of their face is covered.
From a privacy perspective, this gets a little scary because facial recognition can be done, “…from a distance, surreptitiously and continually.” This becomes a big step beyond what’s been done in the past to identify people because it doesn’t require the target’s participation or even knowledge.
Not futuristic anymore
As CBS showed, Intel is already selling software to recognize the rough demographic of an individual in order to deliver more a targeted advertisement, and as the report stated, “Big Brother is no longer Big Government. Big Brother is Big Business,” but without the rules that restrict government. While Europe has laws limiting what can be done with faceprints, many countries including the US have no such regulation.
Why does it matter? If you’ve ever been tagged on Facebook, they have your faceprint on file and per 60 Minutes, the same applies to Apple and Google. This raises the question, “Is our face private?” Marketers are able to link our faceprint associated with our online presence to our offline presence and where we are in the moment (or have been…with perfect memory).
Where does it go from here?
From here, things can go a few different ways. Countries can put greater limits on faceprinting but more likely, we’ll be enticed to give up our privacy in exchange for goods and services. Permissioning has an enormous play in facial recognition, meaning the technology will very likely become a component of loyalty programs. Yes, once again, it comes down to taking the ‘creepy’ away by offering better engagement and benefits from the brands that would like to use our faces to better serve us.
From a security standpoint, we can be a safer society when faceprinting works as a way to track bad people who do bad things, but just like anything else, it will need to be legislated. In the end, that will depend on how we feel about ‘giving up our faces’ without permission.