Updated 3 April 2018.
Copyright: European Union Public License, version 1.2 (EUPL-1.2).
The uses of facial recognition software seem to be growing all of the time, with different companies adopting it. Understanding how facial recognition software works is essential to understanding what you can do about it.
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Contents of this article.
- What is Facial Recognition?
- How Does The Software Work?
- Commonly Used Facial Recognition Software.
- Why it is used.
- Safety Concerns.
- Alternatives and Solutions.
1. What is Facial Recognition?
Facial recognition is a kind of software that identifies a person through a digital image. Many different companies use this type of analysis system, from security systems to computer companies to social networks. The uses of facial recognition software seem to be growing all of the time, with different companies adopting it.
2. How does the Software Work?
Understanding how facial recognition software works is essential to understanding what you can do about it. When a photograph of a person is uploaded into a database, whether its sharing a photo on Facebook or being captured on a security camera, the facial features are immediately compared to other facial pictures that exist in that database.
This is why Facebook for example, can pull up other photos of you when you put up a new one, identifying that the features match. They look for common facial features, including the shape, depth, color, and every detail about your face and then use it to match against other pictures.
3. Commonly Used Facial Recognition Software.
Many of the biggest companies in the world use some kind of facial recognition software. Facebook uses the micro dusts captured on camera lenses to know where that camera has been and all of the pictures it has taken. Referred to as DeepFace, Facebook’s recognition software has been shown to have 97 percent accuracy. To compare, the Next Generation Identification system that is used by the FBI only has an 85 percent accuracy rating.
Regardless of what a country’s privacy laws are, it seems all too easy for companies like Facebook to utilize this type of technology without anyone being aware that it was done. Facebook claims they use it to keep you connected to the people that you are with or care about the most, but clearly there is more to that. If they can tag you in with other people, your likes and habits can be linked, allowing them to market to you in ways that you did not disclose to them.
Google also has come under scrutiny for its facial recognition software used in Google Photos. Their software is so well programmed that it can even match dogs and cats. In early 2018 in the U.S. Google updated its Arts and Culture app to allow users to have a selfie match a work of art. While the app does have a disclaimer that says the information is not saved, the data is still being transmitted to Google’s system in order to create the match.
Apple has moved on to using facial recognition software to unlock all of its new devices, including the iPhone, iPads, and Macbooks. The concern was whether this could be hacked into by someone who is not the user, but that has proven to be nearly impossible. The software can detect your face so precisely that it cannot be fooled.
Casinos have begun to use facial recognition to track regular gamblers. The casinos say they are using it as a means to help with gambling addiction, letting players know how much they have. It seems pretty easy to use it for other purposes, however, including watching big spenders, card counters, or finding ways to encourage more gambling.
There has been mention of bars using the software to determine whether patrons are not of drinking age, helping them kick them out, even if they have a fake ID. While some people might be upset at the idea of being improperly labelled, the software has been proven to be so accurate that that doesn’t seem to be an issue. This is in line with security and law enforcement using the technology for crime-related incidents, rather than commercial monitoring.
4. Why it is used?
Facial recognition software was initially developed in the 1960s, but it did not really pick up until recent years. When it was first really used, it was for security purposes, trying to identify criminals caught on security cameras with mugshots and identification cards to make a match. After the introduction of social media with users posting pictures all of the time in a variety of avenues as well as the growth in popularity of smartphones which allowed you to not only take a picture with your phone, but instantly upload it. As individual photography and selfies became a part of millennial culture, the sheer number of pictures of face online is remarkable.
Because there are so many picture uploaded online, it has become easier for companies to grab your picture for marketing and commercial reasons. They can look at your profile and who you are, pairing your face with different people you know, places you are, and things you do, allowing the individual to create their own marketing profile without even realizing it.
5. Safety Concerns.
When facial recognition was used to catch criminals in the past, the concern over privacy and safety was not really addressed. After all, these pictures were caught by security footage and used to track people who were potentially dangerous to society. With the internet and social media, however, the concerns for safety have become real. To begin with, using your image, companies are able to track your choice, destinations, personal decisions, and even who the people are in your life. With this information, they can create an entire profile on you, using information that they should not be privy to as a means to market things to you.
Outside of marketing, however, governments could also gain access to these marketing profiles that has been created and use the information against you. In Shenzhen, China, the city has started to use cameras with facial recognition capabilities to capture the identities of jaywalkers, who are then put up on a screen to be publicly shamed into obeying the laws and order better. The concept of anonymity in public is being eliminated, resulting in an Orwellian world.
On the website Alibaba, users now have the option to “pay with a smile,” using facial recognition software to complete purchase. Some smartphones also have come out with the ability to unlock by recognizing its user’s face. Windows also has a program on new computers called Windows Hello that will sign you in if it can recognize your face. These things are all marketed as a way to be more convenient for the user, but the reality is darker than that. The computers are able to learn what your face is, chronicling your daily life. If a company was tracking you for marketing purposes, they would know not only your habits, but your social class and buying habits. Brick and mortar stores that have moved to digital tags could recognize that you are in their stores and adjust the price higher if they think you will spend more.
Beyond stores, the government now has the ability to know what you are up to and who you are. Depending on where you live, such as an authoritative state, the government could use this personal information about you in order to have better control over you, making decisions for you, and taking away all personal choice in your lives. Some software has gone so far to attempt to recognize users from behind, pushing the risk of security to be even greater. What if you lived in a country that oppressed different sexualities? If they could identify you using this software, you could be in trouble for something that you were never caught doing.
6. Alternatives and Solutions.
As facial recognition technology has spread like wildfire, avoiding it seems like an impossible task, but there are some things that you can do to protect yourself against it. Some suggestions are more difficult to achieve than others, but here are some options.
• Social media: If you are hoping to avoid facial recognition, you need to start with social media. This means removing uploaded pictures of yourself and refraining from uploading any in the future. Instead of your face, you could use landscapes, animals, or inanimate objects, which might still profile your tastes, but it won’t have your face attached to it.
• Unlocking devices: Do not use the facial unlock option for unlocking your devices, including phones, tablets, and computers. This helps keep the link between you and your devices better concealed.
• Payments: You also should not use the face payment options that are popping up with different companies. You might think it’s faster, but the price is way too high.
• Camera finders: You can purchase a camera finder that will alert you to a security camera that is nearby in order to give you a chance to conceal your face before you pass by. Otherwise, it is very easy to have your face caught on camera without your knowledge.
• NIR LEDs: NIR LEDs are bright lights that overload light sensors so your face cannot be captured. They are available in clothing and accessories. Some are less noticeable than others and it might seem extreme, but it could be useful depending on where you live.
• Masks: If facial recognition is a genuine concern where you live, you can resort to wearing a mask. This could mean a surgical mask that covers the lower part of your mouth, a ski mask, or even going so far as using a prosthetic mask that can make it look like it is a person showing his or her face, but still not recognizable as you.
Unfortunately, facial recognition software is only increasing so the moves you take to avoid it will need to be well-considered. As your face is identified in every aspect of your personal life, you will lose all rights to privacy and autonomy. Use your face wisely and pay attention. The software is more prevalent than any of us realize.