State-of-the-art facial recognition technology, which had been the stuff of hypothetical privacy nightmares for years, is becoming a startling reality. It is increasingly being deployed all around the United States by giant tech companies, shady advertisers and the FBI – with few if any rules to stop it.
In recent weeks, both Facebook and Google launched facial recognition to mine the photos on your phone, with both impressive and disturbing results. Facebook’s Moments app can recognize you even if you cover your face. Google Photos can identify grown adults from decades-old childhood pictures.
Some people might find it neat when it’s only restricted to photos on their phone. But advertisers, security companies and just plain creepy authority figures have also set up their own systems at music festivals, sporting events and even some churches to monitor attendees, which is bound to disturb even those who don’t give a second thought to issues like the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.
Making matters worse, advertisers have apparently indicated that they have no intention of restricting their technology whatsoever. Their refusal caused nine major civil liberties groups to pull out of talks with the advertisers that were aimed to come to an agreement on how companies could institute voluntary protections for the people whose faceprints will inevitably be vacuumed up into their databases. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jennifer Lynch wrote, “After 16 months of active engagement in the process, we decided this week it was no longer an effective use of our resources to continue in a process where companies wouldn’t even agree to the most modest measures to protect privacy.”