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    Atlantic: The Databases That Facial-Recognition Apps Need to Survive

    The Atlantic looks at the issue of privacy and facial-recognition technology:

    Ultimately, the coming wave of consumer facial-recognition technologies brings bad and good news. The bad news is obvious: Automatically identifying one of our most unique and personal traits raises serious privacy concerns ranging from stalking to loss of obscurity in public.

    The good news is that facial-recognition technology—at least the kind that could be used at scale to identify most people in any given place—has an Achilles heel that buys society enough time to respond appropriately. No matter how powerful a facial-recognition app is designed to be, it can’t get the job done without being connected to a database that links names to faces, such as those owned by Facebook or LinkedIn. Going forward the key is to ensure legal and social pressure demands the same responsible behavior from database owners as it does from designers, hosts, and users of facial-recognition technologies. […]

    The most plausible method for an app to tap into a truly useful database of names and faces is to partner with a company that already owns a massive one. Almost overnight, owners of juggernaut image repositories like Facebook would become even more powerful by controlling the chokepoint for an entire cottage industry of facial recognition applications. These databases are currently worth a fortune. Yet, they might still be undervalued, given the great difficulty in creating alternatives with vibrant networks of people who constantly update their information.

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has an important role to play here. Major owners of name and face databases like Google, Twitter, and Facebook have all entered into consent decrees that require them to work with the FTC on any significant retroactive material changes to their privacy policies. Given the best practice recommendations articulated in the FTC’s report on common uses of facial recognition technology, we can hope that consumers would be safeguarded with design features that only allow facial recognition apps to reveal information about users who have voluntarily opted into a system.

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