Is facial scanning technology in public an invasion of privacy? | The Tylt
Is facial scanning technology in public an invasion of privacy?
Despite the fact that government agencies have been using facial recognition technology for over a decade, some cities question the tech's legality. In May 2019 AP News reported:
San Francisco is on track to become the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition by police and other city agencies, reflecting a growing backlash against a technology that’s creeping into airports, motor vehicle departments, stores, stadiums and home security cameras.
Even large tech companies like Microsoft see the danger in facial recognition technology. Matt O'Brien and Janie Har report:
Microsoft, while opposed to an outright ban, has urged lawmakers to set limits on the technology, warning that leaving it unchecked could enable an oppressive dystopia reminiscent of George Orwell’s novel “1984.”
If San Francisco's ban passes, lawmakers in other cities will likely follow suit.
When the first Amazon Go store opened in 2018, protestors joined eager shoppers. Amazon Go stores employ no human cashiers, making privacy experts and advocates question the level of personal detail Amazon would be collecting on its customers via surveillance.
Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University’s law school, suspects Amazon is collecting more customer data than any other retailer. The Washington Post reports:
“But Amazon is tracking you throughout the store. Are they really only tracking you when you lift the item off a shelf? Or are they tracking where you move throughout the store, what you’re looking at, what sections you’re dwelling in?”
Meanwhile, Walgreens is joining the facial-scanning ranks with its new "smart coolers." According to The Atlantic's Sidney Fussell, the chain will try out "fridges equipped with cameras that scan shoppers’ faces and make inferences on their age and gender" in select locations as of early 2019.
Obviously, it's valuable for both brands and retailers to know what shoppers are buying and to categorize those buying habits by demographics like age and gender. But at what cost? Most feel knowledge of customer buying patterns should not violate the privacy of shoppers by scanning their faces without explicit consent.
As far as Walgreens is concerned, the company is safe when it comes to violating customers' privacy. The Atlantic's Fussell makes clear:
Crucially, the “Cooler Screens” system does not use facial recognition. Shoppers aren’t identified when the fridge cameras scan their face. Instead, the cameras analyze faces to make inferences about shoppers’ age and gender.
Meaning, images of shopper's faces are not collected and stored. As Fussell says:
It’s analysis, not recognition.
Facial scanning is the natural next step for brands to learn more about their target customers and future customers. In a supersaturated marketplace, this kind of detailed analysis is necessary in order for companies to keep expanding.
Facial recognition not only has the power to improve relationships between brands and customers, but it could also make huge improvements in public safety. Forbes' Michael Xie reports:
In education, school districts in Arkansas and New York are already looking to facial recognition technology combined with machine learning algorithms to identify people, objects and even behaviors that could present safety threats.
In the event of a tragedy like a school shooting, the technology’s power becomes more clear. It could identify a figure approaching a school and not only confirm if the person should be on the school campus but also use object detection to determine whether the person is holding a weapon or acting suspiciously.
This technology is for the greater good of the people. Although privacy laws should be handled with care, there's no need to turn away from facial scanning and facial recognition completely. In reality, this technology could change the way we live for the better.