Facial Recognition – History and Privacy

Have you been hearing more about Facial Recognition software?  I have, especially with the new iPhone coming out.  I’ve been wondering how well it works. I’m also wondering about the impact on our privacy.  But first, a little history.

History of Facial Recognition:

Scientists developed Facial Recognition Software in the 1960s.  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. Secondly, one of the scientists – in the 1960s! – 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.”

Certainly, the technology continued to advance decade by decade.  In 1993 one of the US Defense agencies took it over.  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.  The software scanned crowds at Super Bowl 35 for known criminals.  Consequently, they found that the tech was not quite ready. Now, it is more accepted by US consumers. Then, in 2010, Facebook began using the software on uploaded photos.  In 2014, Law Enforcement began to adopt facial recognition in the Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS). ARJIS is currently only used in Southern California. Facial Recognition


Privacy is the biggest drawback with Facial Recognition.

In addition, Racial Bias is a big negative.  Japanese and Chinese software recognize Asian faces with a great degree of accuracy. European and US companies recognize Caucasian faces very accurately, but not so much blacks and other “non-white” faces.


  • First of all, Facial Recognition Software is used to identify travelers.  (A boarding pass or passport are used as alternate forms of ID.)
  • Also, a fast food restaurant in China is using “Smile to Pay” to pay their bill.  (ANT Financial developed this facial recognition software.)
  • In addition, in a few months, Apple will release the iPhone X which uses your face to unlock your phone.

Privacy Implications:

As I said to a friend recently, there is no privacy.  And we’ve helped with that.  We freely give plenty of photos of our face for anyone that wants them.  We upload photos to social media, get passports, and just appear in public.  The Economist stated, “…could obtain pictures of visitors to a car showroom say, and later use facial recognition to serve them ads for cars”. 

Importantly, the article continued, “photos of half of America’s adult population are stored in databases … used by the FBI.”

Above all, you should know that the software is not just recognizing faces.  In some cases, it also has the ability to guess at a person’s sexuality and IQ.   The Economist writes “firms … filter all job applications for ethnicity and signs of intelligence and sexuality”. 

As a result, companies deny jobs to qualified people based entirely on what software learns from their face.


I used these articles while writing this post:

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