Facial recognition has been a matter of debate for the past few years. Once touted as an amazing new biometric technology, the fear has become that facial recognition will be used by fascists regimes. In China, it’s already believed that facial recognition is being used to identify potential dissenters, or those who need to undergo re-education training. In the wake of controversy, IBM has become one of a few tech giants to discontinue their facial recognition programs.
Initially, the fears were that government organizations might use facial technology to track citizens, much like is happening in China. But in recent weeks, the fears have shifted towards a single government organization: the police force. IBM canceled its facial recognition program, and Amazon suspended police use of its software.
While these companies supported finding violent criminals through facial recognition, they became increasingly worried that facial recognition would be used to track down dissenters and protestors. With the police departments nationwide looking towards reform, these companies are concerned that a pre-reform police department may abuse it.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s permanent. Once police departments have undergone reform, it’s quite possible that IBM, Amazon, Apple, and other facial recognition companies will start to work with them once again.
The dangers of facial recognition are really a privacy issue. With facial recognition, an individual can be tracked on a granular scale. Whether they walk into a grocery store, go for a run at the park, or simply stay in their own yard, there’s always someone watching with a camera nearby.
When it comes to government intervention, this type of technology can be used to match individuals who may be political dissidents. It can be used to track people who may be unknowingly involved with criminals. And it can be used by companies, to better sell products to individuals based on their locations and their activities.
The idea that someone’s face can be tracked means that the person can be tracked at all times, and it means that there can be a growing infrastructure of devices that can control, refuse, or alter service based on an individual’s identity. Some believe that this technology is inherently toxic because the benefits simply don’t outweigh the risks; it’s a lack of privacy, in return for very limited benefits.
Until society is better prepared to deal with facial recognition, it’s likely that these types of biometric scans are going to be limited to smartphones and other private security measures alone. For IBM, it means the loss of billions of dollars of funding, which the company points out is only a fraction of its annual revenue. It also highlights areas in which technology is becoming intricately linked with politics and in which politics are directly altering our technological landscape.