Imagine that you are a pastor of an American megachurch. You need to track attendance of your flock for spiritual and financial purposes, but your records are always inaccurate. How about face recognition? Spooky as it sounds, a company called Churchix is marketing software which will track faces in a crowd and add their names to a database.
This is just one of the applications of facial recognition software which has privacy advocates up in arms. “Various applications are traditionally used by security organizations, but in recent years there’s an increasing demand for commercial civic applications,” says one company.
The US government wants to a voluntary, enforceable code of conduct for commercial purposes, but, according to New Scientist, discussions between privacy advocates and industry representatives broke down almost immediately. They could not agree on the answer to the simple question: “If you are walking down the street, a public street, should a company be able to identify you without your permission?"
One company promises to "boost sales by recognising high-value customers each time they shop" and to send "alerts when known litigious individuals enter any of your locations".
"What facial recognition allows is a world without anonymity," says Bedoya. "You walk into a car dealership and the salesman knows your name and how much you make. That's not a world I want to live in," says Alvaro Bedoya of the Georgetown University Law Centre in Washington DC.
"Companies are already marketing products that will let a stranger point a camera at you and identify you by name and by your dating profile," says Bedoya. "I think most reasonable people would find this appalling."
"This is just the beginning of a very important conversation," Kate Crawford of Microsoft Research told New Scientist. "Facial recognition is one of many remote biometric sensing technologies. There's also gait detection, iris scanning, heartbeat recognition and many others. We need a deeper discussion of the social and ethical implications of these capacities as well as who gets to use them, where and how."
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