Missing Face
Martin Stanley

Member Article

Facial recognition: the good, the bad and the ugly

Facial recognition is a relatively hot topic at the minute. Let’s face it (…sorry), it was always likely to cause a bit of a stir.

Recent months have seen the technology driven further into the media spotlight as Google assured the world that Glass will not allow facial recognition applications… yet. Then came Lord Sugar announcing Amscreens’ software interest, OptimEyes, which uses facial detection technology to assess the relevancy of digital marketing content. And finally, we launched the social facial recognition app, Faceifi, to both acclaim and occasional dismay.

Why is facial recognition so interesting, so exciting and yet so controversial? Below are some of my thoughts. Let’s start with the bad.

The bad

Some people simply don’t want to be identified by technology or, more specifically, those behind the technology. People rightly question who is going to benefit from the information.

Privacy is intrinsically considered a right. The fear of being ‘tracked’ is one shared by many (surely the majority) and it could be argued that being recognised is the first, dangerous step in a potentially rather short journey to a Big Brother society - and one far worse than those described in books and films; one run by Starbucks, Walmart and Primark. Well, perhaps not Primark.

The good

Point taken on the importance of privacy. I’m sold. But what use is progress, technological discovery and innovation if we are not open to and excited by it? Yes, there are those who would happily rid the globe of technology and, yes, for those, this is a battle facial recognition will not win.

Yet, can we really be satisfied with ourselves if the best that we as cognitive beings can do with facial recognition is to build security systems? And why? Not for limitations to the technology, but as a result of the fear of being recognised.

An enthusiastic response to facial recognition would assert that this technology can be interesting and fun, as well as useful; it can allow you to be found by those that you want to find you; to search for those you’re looking for; to save you time by letting the Barista start work on your cappuccino the second you walk through the door; and even, even to maintain your privacy in certain instances.

The ugly

What’s really, really ugly about facial recognition is the possibility that it could be used without our knowledge and approval. People are not scared of being recognised and this blogpost has been slightly tongue in cheek in that respect.

What people hate the idea of is not knowing and not being in control. Privacy is important. Everyone should know what facial recognition means before they exercise the choice to engage with it, or not. There must be a choice.

This takes us back to innovation and progress. It can be good, it can be exciting, it can be useful, but there must be limits to prevent what could be so good from becoming ugly.

In the case of facial recognition, I would argue that limit must be represented by choice. Any service or product that uses facial recognition should begin with an engagement choice made on the basis of well-conveyed and transparent information.

That’s the stance we’ve taken with Faceifi. It’s a strictly opt-in platform where users decide what information others can and can’t access. That means facial recognition doesn’t have to be so scary.

Please let me know if you have any comments or thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Martin Stanley .

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