Facial Recognition Moves into Consumer Market

Think facial recognition is limited to the domain of multi-megapixel IP cameras or brand-new VMSs? These days, video analytics are not just for security directors.

In a column in Slate, Farhad Manjoo writes about the spread of the technology that we in the security industry have been friendly with for a long time: facial recognition. Police are implementing it on their iPhones – snap a picture of a perp and find out whom he is instantly – and Google, apparently, has had uncannily accurate recognition algorithms for awhile, though it hasn’t released them to the public. That other Internet behemoth, Facebook, has been using its facial recognition software to help people tag photos for several months.

And why not? It’s the age-old tension between security and privacy, rearing its head again. “Imagine, a world in which someone can simply take a photo of you on the street, in a crowd, or with a telephoto lens, and discover everything about you on the internet,” wrote PCWorld’s Sarah Jacobssen Purewal.

In security, there are fewer such qualms, because those whom the cameras identify are usually the bad guys – the people who break in, who use a stolen access card. Some facial recognition software does track employees, too, to ensure that the correct person is presenting his or her credential, but that is much more limited in scope than an Internet company’s actions. While employees may not know who the security director at their company is, they can be pretty confident that he, unlike Facebook or Google, isn’t going to make that information available to anyone and everyone who wants it.

Manjoo says that, regardless of how we feel about it, facial recognition will become ubiquitous. “Who is that woman who's always winking at you on the bus, or that creepy fellow who's leering at you from across the bar? Snap their pictures and find out,” he writes. “Given the demand, and given the widespread availability of the technology, it's inevitable that some company will release such a face-recognition tool very soon. And once the horse leaves the barn, it will become socially acceptable for Google and other tech giants to follow.”

What do you think? Is it inevitable that facial recognition will become mainstream? Or can we find a way to restrict it only to those trusted professionals – security directors, law enforcement -- who need it to keep us safe?

Posted by Laura Williams on Jul 18, 2011

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