Facial Recognition: A Scary Inevitability?

To date, facial recognition has come under fire for infringing human rights and breaking Data Protection laws

To date, facial recognition has come under fire for infringing human rights and breaking Data Protection laws.

Facebook's 'Tag Suggestion' application, in particular, has received a large amount of criticism to the point where it has been banned within the jurisdiction of the Hamburg's Data Protection Authority. Designed to speed up the process of tagging friends and family in photos, the 'Tag Suggestion' feature scans newly uploaded photos matching faces to previously tagged images and automatically tagging them. What this essentially means, is that Facebook is collecting users' biometric data without obtaining consent to do so - which has led to the tool being banned in Germany.

Whilst Facebook has received a large amount of flack for the use of this technology, the use of facial recognition and the multiple ways it can be utilised should not be underestimated. Take for example, Coca Cola has launched an application called Facelook. At any one of their Summer Love events, users can post their experiences on their Facebook profile simply by looking at the Facelook machine. Using facial recognition technology, the Facelook application identifies the Facebook user and instantly updates their profile.

Another interesting twist on facial recognition technology is SceneTap, an app providing users with real time demographic information on participating bars. Using facial recognition technology installed throughout bars, SceneTap can provide a scary insight into how many people are currently in the bar, the female to male ratio and the average age of visitors in the bar. A rather scary but clever way to go about planning your night out, isn't it?

So, whilst sharing information through getting your photo taken is brilliant fun at a party, we need to seriously consider the power we are giving brands and organisations by allowing them to capture our biometric data. Facebook already holds an unprecedented amount of information on us, as proven by a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Relying upon facial recognition technology and Facebook's user database, the researchers were able to correctly identify the first five digits of 27% of the participant's social security numbers. Who knows how much information could have been harnessed if they used other social media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Flickr!

If this was coupled with the Out-of-Home advertising technology currently being developed, which uses facial recognition technology to identify passer-by's age and sex, than advertisers would be able to deliver highly targeted marketing messages tailored down to the granular detail.

Targeted advertising, and facial recognition for that matter, doesn't necessarily sound like a bad thing - don't we want to see products from brands that we are genuinely interested in? Rather, it is the fact that advertisers could get their hands on so much information about us and we don't know what they could be doing with it. Further to this, if we become surrounded by such advanced technology, there is very little we can do to opt out of our biometric data being identified and stored - bar wearing a balaclava. Either way, it will be interesting to see how facial recognition technology continues to make its way into the social media and marketing channels.