FTC sets facial recognition software best practices

FTC is not setting new rules but obviously has facial recognition privacy issues in mind

If facial recognition software is a big part of your company's security system you might want to take a look at a new report from the Federal Trade Commission which outlines personal privacy protection company's that use the technology should employ.

The FTC report recommends for example:

  • Users develop reasonable security protections for the information they collect, and sound methods for determining when to keep information and when to dispose of it;
  • Companies consider the sensitivity of information when developing their facial recognition products and services - for example, digital signs using facial recognition technologies should not be set up in places where children congregate;
  • Companies take steps to make sure consumers are aware of facial recognition technologies when they come in contact with them, and that they have a choice as to whether data about them is collected. So, for example, if a company is using digital signs to determine the demographic features of passersby, such as age or gender, they should provide clear notice to consumers that the technology is in use before consumers come into contact with the signs;
  • Social networks using facial recognition features should provide consumers with clear notice about how the feature works, what data it collects, and how that data will be used. They also should provide consumers with an easy to use choice not to have their biometric data collected and used for facial recognition, and the ability to turn the feature off at any time and have the biometric data previously collected from their photos permanently deleted.

The FTC went on to say there are at least two circumstances in which companies should get consumers' affirmative consent before collecting or using biometric data from facial images.  First, they should obtain consent before using consumers' images or any biometric data in a different way than they represented when they collected the data.  Second, companies should not use facial recognition to identify anonymous images of a consumer to someone who could not otherwise identify him or her, without obtaining the consumer's affirmative consent first, the FTC stated. 

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The use of facial recognition technology is growing and with it the potential for abuse and privacy invasion. 

For example, Network World wrote in July: EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch testified that although "many Americans may not realize it, they are already in a face recognition database." The Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law held a hearing about facial recognition in regards to privacy and civil liberties. Between Facebook scanning 300 million photos a day and the FBI's nationwide face search, real-time face recognition is coming and we desperately need privacy protections in place.

The FTC said: "Facial recognition technologies have been adopted in a variety of contexts, ranging from online social networks and mobile apps to digital signs, the FTC staff report states.  They have a number of potential uses, such as determining an individual's age range and gender in order to deliver targeted advertising; assessing viewers' emotions to see if they are engaged in a video game or a movie; or matching faces and identifying anonymous individuals in images. 

Facial recognition also has raised a variety of privacy concerns because - for example - it holds the prospect of identifying anonymous individuals in public, and because the data collected may be susceptible to security breaches and hacking."

The FTC went on to state that a more refined version of facial recognition technology lets companies assess characteristics of facial images. For instance, companies can identify moods or emotions from facial expressions to determine a player's engagement with a video game or a viewer's excitement during a movie. Companies can also place cameras into digital signs to determine the demographic characteristics of a face - such as age range and gender - and deliver targeted advertisements in real-time in retail spaces.

In the most advanced application, companies can use the technology to compare individuals' facial characteristics across different images in order to identify them. In this application, an image of an individual is matched with another image of the same individual. If the face in either of the two images is identified - that is, the name of the individual is known - then, in addition to being able to demonstrate a match between two faces, the technology can be used to identify previously anonymous faces. This is the use of facial recognition that potentially raises the most serious privacy concerns because it can identify anonymous individuals in images, the FTC stated.

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