San Francisco’s facial recognition ban is most likely the beginning of a national battle over the technology. But what does it say when a city that exists to push technology as far as it can – rejects this technology?
San Francisco ban’s facial recognition technology while China is pushing it as far as it can go. Chins is even using it as social klout:
“A low social credit score will exclude you from well-paid jobs, make it impossible for you to get a house or a car loan or even book a hotel room. The Government will slow down your internet connection, ban your children from attending private schools and even post your profile on a public blacklist for all to see.” Steven W. Mosher
So, what do you need to know about facial recognition?
What is Facial Recognition?
Facial recognition is a technology that is capable of recognizing a human face. It uses a photo of a person to read the geometry of their face. Attributions can include the distance between their eyes and the space between their forehead and chin. These and other distinguishing features make up a facial signature, allowing the technology to determine a person’s identity.
Facial recognition technology uses photos and images stored online or captured from surveillance footage to identify a person by matching their facial signature. This data is then stored in a database. It can be searched and accessed at a later time by business and government agencies. The industry is growing incredibly fast, and Symantec Corporation expects the facial recognition market to grow to over $7.5 billion in 2022 – almost double the size it was in 2017.
According to a study performed by Georgetown University, half of all American adults have their facial signature stored in one or several facial-recognition databases. These databases can be searched by law enforcement and other government agencies, and sometimes by marketers.
Recently, San Francisco has banned facial recognition and high-tech surveillance stating that the technology is incompatible with a healthy democracy and citizens’ rights to privacy. This sends an important message to the rest of the country, as San Francisco is one of the most technologically-accepting cities. As a result, local agencies cannot use the technology and any new surveillance must be approved by the city. Some feel that this puts safety at risk, but others argue that this technology is invasive and infringes on privacy and literacy.
There is a fear that the technology could be manipulated. If put in the wrong hands this could have serious societal ramifications. We are even seeing the technology and its risks portrayed in shows like Black Mirror. The episode titled “Nosedive” shows a world where everyone is rated on every interaction they have, and their rating affects everything from their economic status to who they can spend time with.
Is this where facial recognition technology is headed? While seemingly far-fetched, these fears have already become a reality in parts of the world like China, where they have implemented “Social Credit Scores” run by Alibaba, the online-shopping giant.
The scores range from 350 to 950 and are dependent on social and financial behaviours. Your score can go up by doing good deeds like giving blood. Or, it can decrease if you get caught quarrelling with a neighbour. Essentially, the Chinese government is using facial recognition technology to monitor all actions. Assign points. And create a grading scale – whether they be positive or negative.
Individuals with high scores are treated as first-class citizens and are given access to perks. Some of those include: skipping lines in hospitals, getting better foreign exchange rates, and renting without a security deposit. Low-scorers, on the other hand, can be denied a mortgage. Low Scores can even be blacklisted. This can cause other individuals to avoid communication with them for fear that their score will decrease as well.
What Don’t We Know?
Although the US does not have a social point system that tracks everyone’s actions, facial recognition is already used in many different places. Airports use the technology to monitor travellers coming in and out of the country. Colleges use it to take attendance. Companies like Apple use it to let you lock your phone.
Even with San Francisco banning facial recognition, this ban does not apply to areas run by federal agencies like airports and seaports. Symantec Corporation reported that the FBI has access to over 412 million facial images that can be used for matching facial signatures.
In fact, new open-source tools like “Social Mapper” can be used to automatically search social media networks to find images and locate Facebook or Twitter profiles based on a name and photo.
That definitely makes you think about who has access to your images and personal information. Was that “10-year” Facebook challenge a viral trend, or actually a facial recognition experiment to test aging patterns?