There have been increasing privacy and civil liberty questions raised as the use facial recognition technology has increased in companies’ advertising and criminal investigations. As identification technology becomes cheaper and more prevalent, it could easily unmask people and track their movements. Those who were previously part of the unnamed crowd could be singled out for identification.
I’ve discussed before the increasing use of facial recognition technology in advertising, especially in “digital signage.” Most people have heard of the term connected with billboards or other screens that have cameras (and facial-recognition technology) to watch people watching ads in order to improve their marketing. The digital signs log data such as gender, approximate age and how long someone looks at an advertisement. This is supposed to help build a better billboard — one that is tailored specifically to the individual standing in front of it. However, the data-gathering and surveillance practices raise substantial privacy questions. (Disclosure: The Center for Democracy and Technology has released a set of privacy guidelines for digital signage, which I consulted on and contributed to, in the report “Building the Digital Out-Of-Home Privacy Infrastructure.”)
There are also civil liberty questions of government use of the technology. See this previous post for a discussion about the First Amendment right to free speech and how widespread identification technologies can affect that. More of my thoughts on facial recognition in this older GCN interview.
The Federal Trade Commission, which recently held a workshop of facial recognition technology, is now seeking public comment about the use of this biometric technology. The deadline for filing is Jan. 31. Here’s more from the FTC press release:
Facial detection and recognition technologies have been adopted in a variety of new contexts, ranging from online social networks to digital signs and mobile apps. Their increased use has raised a variety of privacy concerns. To further the Commission’s understanding of the issues, the Federal Trade Commission staff seeks public comments on issues raised at the workshop, including but not limited to:
- What are the current and future commercial uses of these technologies?
- How can consumers benefit from the use of these technologies?
- What are the privacy and security concerns surrounding the adoption of these technologies, and how do they vary depending on how the technologies are implemented?
- Are there special considerations that should be given for the use of these technologies on or by populations that may be particularly vulnerable, such as children?
- What are best practices for providing consumers with notice and choice regarding the use of these technologies?
- Are there situations where notice and choice are not necessary? By contrast, are there contexts or places where these technologies should not be deployed, even with notice and choice?
- Is notice and choice the best framework for dealing with the privacy concerns surrounding these technologies, or would other solutions be a better fit? If so, what are they?
- What are best practices for developing and deploying these technologies in a way that protects consumer privacy?