Mixed Feelings on Facial Recognition Software Advancements

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With many companies and even government agencies working tirelessly to incorporate facial recognition technology into a wide variety of uses, it’s hard to keep up with all the advancements that have been made—and which ones are being used without our even knowing it.

Some simply describe the technology as “creepy.”

The FBI recently unveiled its own plans for the use of facial recognition technology, and with an initial investment of $1 billion dollars in funding, they’re already having to defend the scope of the project to allay the fears of skeptics. At this time, the FBI is only using existing mugshots to populate its database.

But as Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told New Scientist: “…it's unclear from the NGI's (Next Generation Identification) privacy statement whether that will remain the case once the entire system is up and running or if civilian photos might be added.” 

At the state level, New Jersey is using their own facial recognition software at the DMV to prevent identity theft. Those needing a new driver’s license are being asked to not smile or make any “exaggerated facial expressions” so the DMV computers can more easily identify drivers. Even though states have always kept photographic records of citizens through DMV photos, it’s small requests like “don’t smile” that have made some people uneasy.

Not all uses of facial recognition software have been met with skepticism and privacy fears. Some advancements have been met with great fanfare and have created a battle for bragging rights over who developed the software first. In 2011, and only months apart, Apple and Google each filed for patents on new, licensed technology: A smartphone will not unlock with a simple code but will require a matching scan of the device owner’s face.

Mounting concerns about privacy on Facebook increased earlier this summer when the social media giant purchased Face.com. Using a “tag suggestions” feature, the software scans users’ photos for faces that are recognized from previously tagged pictures. The Washington Times noted, “Users can opt out of this service, but the default setting is ‘on.’” 

As the technology advances and is more widely adopted, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the use of facial recognition software will increase dramatically in the coming years—and make it far more rare to be given the chance to opt out at all.

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Noel Wurst

A resident copywriter and editor for TechWell, SQE, and StickyMinds.com, Noel Wurst has written for numerous blogs, websites, newspapers, and magazines. Noel has presented educational conference sessions for those looking to become better writers. In his spare time, he can be found spending time with his wife and two sons—and tending to the food on his Big Green Egg. Noel eagerly looks forward to technology's future, while refusing to let go of the relics of the past.