Facial Recognition – History and Privacy

Have you been hearing more about Facial Recognition technology?  I have, especially with the new iPhone coming out, I’ve been wondering how well it works and what the implications to our privacy are.  But first, a little history.

History of Facial Recognition:

The first facial recognition programs were developed in the 1960’s.  The scientist’s names were Woody Bledsoe, Helen Chan Wolf, and Charles Bisson.  (There are two surprises to me here.  First that scientists were working on this more than a half century ago, and secondly that one of the scientists – in the 1960’s! – was a woman.)  “Their programs required the administrator to locate features such as the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth on the photograph. It then calculated distances and ratios to a common reference point which was then compared to reference data.”

The technology continued to advance decade by decade until it was taken over by one of the US Defense agencies in 1993.  They named the project FERET or Face Recognition Technology Evaluation.  In 2006, “The Face Recognition Grand Challenge (FRGC) evaluated the latest face recognition algorithms available. High-resolution face images, 3D face scans, and iris images were used in the tests. … Some of the algorithms were able to outperform human participants in recognizing faces and could uniquely identify identical twins.”

More Recent Developments:

A big failure occurred in 2002.  Facial recognition was used to scan the crowds at Super Bowl 35 for known criminals.  Consequently, they found that the technology was not quite ready yet.  In the 15 years since then, the technology has been fine-tuned, and it has been accepted more by US consumers. Then, in 2010, Facebook began using the technology on uploaded photos.  Then in 2014, Law Enforcement Agencies began to adopt facial recognition in the Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS). While ARJIS is currently only used in Southern California, it will probably be expanded in the future.Facial Recognition

Drawbacks:

The biggest problem with Facial Recognition software is its racial bias.  Software developed by Japanese and Chinese companies recognize Asian faces with a great degree of accuracy, but other races to a lesser degree.  European and US companies recognize Caucasian faces very accurately, but no so much blacks and other “non-white” faces.

Today:

Facial Recognition is being used today to identify a traveler in lieu of a boarding pass or passport.  In addition, a fast food restaurant in China is using “Smile to Pay”, a facial recognition software developed by ANT Financial to pay their bill. In a few months, Apple will release the iPhone x which uses your face, instead of your fingerprint, to unlock your phone.

Privacy Implications:

As I said to a friend recently, there is no privacy.  And we’ve helped with that.  As a result of uploading photos to social media, getting passports, and just appearing in public, we’ve provided plenty of photos of our face for anyone that wants them.  A recent article in the Economist stated that Facebook “could obtain pictures of visitors to a car showroom say, and later use facial recognition to serve them ads for cars.” The article also stated that “photographs of half of America’s adult population are stored in databases that can be used by the FBI.”

And the software is not just recognizing faces, in some cases it also has the ability to guess at a person’s sexuality and intelligence.  The Economist goes on to say that facial recognition can be used to enable “firms to filter all job applications for ethnicity and signs of intelligence and sexuality”.  As a result, corporations can deny jobs to qualified applicants based entirely on what their software learns from their face.

Research:

Since I had to do some research, here are some of the articles I used:

Was this explanation of Facial Recognition interesting?  Please forward to a friend!

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