Facial Recognition

Who owns your face?

From traffic cameras reading your license plate, to security cameras on your phone to the unblinking eye of cameras in public places, facial recognition is everywhere. Did you know that the average adult will be caught on camera (at least) a dozen times a day and if you live in a city then, you are caught on camera 50+ times a day. More than 50% of Americans are in a database available to law enforcement and more than 25% of all police departments in the USA have used that database to solve a crime. All of that makes me wonder, who owns the rights to my face? I ponder that and the prevalence of facial recognition in American society. Tune in for a very insightful episode.

Hi, I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

From traffic cameras reading your license plate, to security cameras on your phone to the unblinking eye of cameras in public places, facial recognition is everywhere. Did you know that the average adult will be caught on camera (at least) a dozen times a day and if you live in a city then, you are caught on camera (at least 50 times) a day. More than 50% of Americans are in a database available to law enforcement and more than 25% of all police departments in the USA have used that database to solve a crime. All of that makes me wonder, who owns the rights to my face? I ponder that and the prevalence of facial recognition in American society, after this special message from our sponsor.

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Using your face to unlock your phone has been around since 2011, as it was available on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS and Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone. Nowadays, phones like iPhone X, Galaxy Note 9 and LG G7 use biometric information to unlock your device, like your unique eye and facial pattern. Many people find it more convenient or just cool to use face unlocking versus their fingerprint. And phones like the iPhone X and Oppo Find X have done away with the fingerprint reader altogether, relying solely on face unlocking using infrared light to map your face.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, its in your car too. Listen to these quotes from AutoNews.com.

In a car-sharing economy, how does a vehicle recognize which motorist is in the driver’s seat? Judging by Chrysler’s Portal electric minivan concept, the answer may be facial recognition. The Portal, which debuted this month at the CES technology expo here, featured a camera behind the steering wheel that scans the motorist’s face. After the initial scan, the vehicle would maintain a profile that includes the motorist’s favorite radio stations, seat position, address book, calendar, etc. Panasonic Automotive developed the system with Sensory Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif., company that supplies facial- and voice-recognition software for mobile phones, tablets and laptops. “The technology has been proven out in millions of Android phones,” said Don Turner, Panasonic Automotive’s associate director of advanced engineering. “Fiat Chrysler is evaluating it, and we are showing pieces of this solution to other automakers.”

An automaker could also install other cameras in the cabin to recognize and store profiles of passengers. A noise cancellation system could create an aural cocoon around each passenger, who could listen to his or her preferred music. Turner says the facial-recognition software is robust enough to recognize motorists even if they change their look by growing a beard, getting a new haircut or wearing glasses.

Other suppliers are tinkering with biometrics, too. Gentex Corp. is developing a camera mounted in the rearview mirror that would analyze images of the motorist’s irises.  “…identification using irises is more accurate than using fingerprints, Gentex CFO Steve Downing said..”

And here’s another fun fact, Byton, a Chinese high-tech startup that aims to compete with Tesla in the electric-car market, has an SUV that unlocks the door when its facial recognition software recognizes the driver. It will also automatically adjust the seats, mirrors, and climate control to their personal preferences.

Facial recognition is on our phones.

Facial recognition is in our cars.

And facial recognition is in our homes.

Listen to these two quotes, from the website – Gearbrain.

Facial recognition has been in the smart home for several years already, with the Netatmo Welcome indoor security camera offering the technology since 2015. The camera alerts you to every new face it sees, which you can then identify as family members or housemates. Once the system knows that information, the camera will then only alert you when it spots a stranger.

Facial recognition is also a feature of security cameras from Arlo, and Nest, including the Nest Hello, a video doorbell which not only tells you someone is at the door, but who it is before you answer. In these cases, facial recognition is used to inform you about what or whom your smart home has seen, rather than have the house operate when it recognizes you, the owner.

Google is starting to experiment with this via its Nest division with its new Nest Hub Max, a 10-inch touchscreen and smart speaker used to control the smart home. With a camera, the smart display recognizes your face and offers up personal information, similar to how the regular Home Hub does after recognizing your voice. Importantly, the Nest Hub Max does this without you asking. If it spots your face from across the room, the Max displays information specific to you. No speaking required.

And…

Bill Hensley of Nortek Security & Control, which produces the Elan, said at the product’s launch: “We are integrating advanced video analytics and face recognition with our smart home control technologies…the smart home is becoming increasingly intuitive and personalized.”

The Elan touch panel is designed to recognize you as you approach, then display a custom menu of options and control various smart home devices. For example, it could be programed to adjust the lighting and thermostat to your preferred setting, lower the window blinds, and turn on your favorite music playlist when you walk through the door.

Such a system undoubtedly takes the smart home forward, edging it closer to the almost inevitable point where most of our connected devices react intuitively to our presence and our needs, instead of waiting to be told what to do each and every day. We believe the future of the smart home is one which adjusts automatically, with very little input from the user themselves; facial recognition is one of the many steps we expect the industry will take to reach that goal.

Facial recognition in our phones, our cars and even our homes.

If you’ve been to the airport, you’ve seen facial recognition at work there, scanning you before you get on a plane. And if you’ve been to certain restaurants, like the California eatery – CaliBurger, then you may have noticed how they have connected facial recognition to its loyalty program. Basically, customers  agree to share their personal data with the brand, and afterwards, the software, installed in ordering kiosks, recognizes registered members as they approach, activates their loyalty accounts and, based on previous purchases, can display their favorite meals (and maybe suggest seconds).

Now all of these ways that companies are using facial recognition makes it very convenient for their customers. It also raises privacy concerns. I’ll discuss some of those concerns, after this.

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The facial recognition app – Clearview AI has received a lot of buzz lately. Essentially, this app scraped the public photos of Facebook (and other social media sites) in order to make a massive face database. Perhaps you’ve heard of it already? If not, listen to this news report from CBS News in Los Angeles.

For me personally, I find all of this facial recognition… concerning. On one hand, I can applaud some of the ways law enforcement is using the technology. Here are just a few examples

So, as I said, I can applaud some of the ways law enforcement has used facial recognition. But on the other hand, I have a lot of questions. I will ask them here openly with the hope that a lawyer or some security expert will reply back with some answers.

  • Where is my face in the matrix (which is what I call this invisible system of databases keeping track of my face, your face, everybody’s face)?
  • Can I be alerted when my face is entered into a database? I want to be able to check its accuracy.
  • If my face pops up in connection to a criminal investigation, and it turns out that its not me, will my invisible record be erased? I ask because I would not want to be subject to extra scrutiny in case the same mistake happens in the future. Facial recognition does not have the best record when it comes to people of color.
  • And one last question because, I’ve seen this in spy movies so many times, what stops someone from creating a mask that looks like me, thereby giving them access to my phone, my car and even my home?

That’s the kind of thing that can really ruin your day.

MUSIC IN THIS PODCAST:

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