Say cheese! Soon every 'security' camera will secretly recognise your pretty face
by Soda Says
A month ago
CCTV's been widespread since the 80s - what's the big deal?
This ain't any recording - this is all about identifying your individual face in a crowd with facial recognition technology. Last week the Financial Times revealed tens of thousands of visitors to London's newly developed Kings Cross district were being secretly recorded by facial recognition cameras - the UK's data-protection watchdog is now investigating. A spokesperson for the developer Argent claimed there were "sophisticated systems in place to protect the privacy of the general public”.
If they're so concerned about that, why are they secretly tracking us?
The Canary Wharf Group which owns both private offices and public spaces in Kings Cross and Canary Wharf (BTW all you people working for Barclays, Credit Suisse and HSBC in Canary Wharf - you're next) claims it's all about "public safety". That old chestnut. But now the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is demanding answers. Adds criminologist Pete Fussey from the University of Essex: “The privatisation of public spaces in London raises interesting legal questions [for surveillance]."
So what exactly does the law say?
That collecting personal data including faces requires explicit consent. These cameras work by matching images with databases, but guess what - they aren’t always accurate, which leads to false matches. What's more, those falsely matched images aren’t automatically deleted. Yet most of us have already pressed "I agree" to facial recognition technology - it's out there tagging photos from our summer hols and best friend's wedding on Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Many people can't get into their Apple phones without it. Read exactly how it works here.
And isn't facial recognition technology particularly racist?
Can be. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed its own tests of the technology had mistakenly flagged 26 California lawmakers as criminals with more than half of those falsely identified as being people of colour. A similar test conducted last year identified 28 members of Congress as criminals. Now the ACLU wants to ban facial recognition technology in police body cameras.
Those tech heads in San Francisco - who know where this sinister facial recognition trajectory is heading - have already banned it from their city
Oh the irony - considering the great consumerization of facial recognition technology has been propagated by the likes of Google, Apple and Facebook. Yet most police forces love it - London’s Metropolitan Police and the South Wales Police have already trialled facial recognition systems on unsuspecting citizens. Russia wants its police to have special glasses that identify "people of interest", Israel uses it against the Palestinians - even Taylor Swift installed it at a concert to pick out her stalkers.
Taylor Swift's control freakery is one thing - facial recognition security cameras following you on your weekly shop is quite another
Supermarkets in the UK including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer all have cameras capable - or will soon be capable - of facial recognition for crime prevention and targeting underage cigarette buyers. Apparently. In Australia, Westfield’s Smartscreen network captures shoppers gauping at advertising images, estimates their sex, age and mood (me - furious at even being in a shopping mall) and then shares their reaction to the ad with advertisers. Kerching.
That's not as scary as Jeff Bezos' 'Rekognition' programme for Amazon
True. Not content with knowing every single thing we buy, last week Amazon said its facial recognition technology - which it flogs to law enforcement agencies and has offered to those lovely people at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) - can detect fear in people's faces. That makes it the eighth emotion it can identify along with happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, calmness and confusion. *looks disgusted*. Bezos's behemoth says it has improved Rekognition's age range estimation accuracy, so customers can get narrower age ranges "across most age groups." How comforting.
But aren't refuseniks planning to subvert this pervasive technology?
Yep, the Hong Kong protestors simply hide their faces with scarves or point hand-held lasers at CCTV cameras to dazzle them. The most interesting way is by adopting the "computer vision dazzle" - a mixture of carefully applied black and white face paint and hiding at least one eye and the bridge of your nose. Take a look here.
Not sure that's my style. And without wanting to get too pernickety, surely privacy is still a fundamental human right?
One explicitly stated under Article 12 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The bedrock of our human dignity, it should protect citizens from arbitrary power abuse - yet countries like China flout it to fine jaywalkers and track and intern its Uighur muslims. And companies like Amazon place profits before any such rights, with shareholders who refuse to limit the sale of its anti-privacy Rekognition software.
It's not all bad news on the face front. Last week Facebook lost a federal appeal in the US over facial recognition data and its dodgy privacy practices. Damages could run into the billions.