Can you guess what you do not see more and more these days? Facial recognition scanners. They are growing in number and as much as we want to think new technology can be beneficial to humans, I worry about this one and that makes me think Apple’s approach to facial recognition in Face ID is the right approach but needs to be expanded.
Here’s the problem. Facial recognition has a number of moving parts. First, a technology that somewhere somehow scans your face and catalogs it into a database. Second, a technology that marries your scanned face to your personal identification. Finally, how the facial recognition is used.
Apple’s method is simpler than you might think; a typically elegant solution similar to the iPhone and iPad’s Touch ID. Your face gets scanned and the image is converted into numbers. Each subsequent scan is converted into numbers, too, and they need to match– close enough– to the original. Then your iPhone is unlocked. Nobody has access to those numbers except your iPhone so that’s about as secure as facial recognition can get.
What about, say, facial recognition that shows up in airports?
Allie Funk didn’t like it and for the right reasons, when she went to board a plane. She opted out.
Federal agencies and airlines claim that facial recognition is an opt-out system, but my recent experience suggests they are incentivizing travelers to have their faces scanned—and disincentivizing them to sidestep the tech—by not clearly communicating alternative options.
The pain to opt out is sufficient that most people don’t. They are happy with their faces being scanned and then tied to their identity. Faster boarding is the incentive.
Last year, a Delta customer service representative reported that only 2 percent of customers opt out of facial-recognition. It’s easy to see why.
Anybody besides me– and Allie– see a problem with this seemingly simple and somewhat innocuous threat to personal information?
I had an eerie vision of a new privacy-invasive status quo. With our faces becoming yet another form of data to be collected, stored, and used, it seems we’re sleepwalking toward a hyper-surveilled environment, mollified by assurances that the process is undertaken in the name of security and convenience.
Google, Facebook, and Amazon don’t scan our faces and stuff them into a database somewhere– where it can be hacked by who knows who.
Where is this going?
It doesn’t matter because it’s already here. Where it’s going can only be in two directions, probably both simultaneously.
The facial recognition plan in US airports is built around the Customs and Border Protection Biometric Exit Program, which utilizes face-scanning technology to verify a traveler’s identity. CBP partners with airlines—including Delta, JetBlue, American Airlines, and others—to photograph each traveler while boarding. That image gets compared to one stored in a cloud-based photo-matching service populated with photos from visas, passports, or related immigration applications.
The government is collecting faces and matching them to data that can be used in two ways.
First, to our benefit– as in faster boarding at the gate. Second, someone steals the data and uses it for nefarious purposes.
Both will happen.
I like Apple’s Face ID better because the danger level is low and the privacy, security, and convenience levels are high.