Facial recognition debate: privacy advocates unsatisfied with government plans

The safeguards currently surrounding facial recognition technology are not enough, according to a large group of privacy advocates. For the past 18 months, the group, backed by Facebook, Google and Microsoft, have been speaking to the US government on new precautions for users.

One of the most prominent features privacy advocates want implemented is the ability to opt-in to facial recognition, instead of having the system automatically store information and send messages to the customer’s phone.

It seems the US government has different plans for facial recognition however, leading to the privacy groups moving away from talks earlier this week.

The stored information could inform store owners that a shoplifter is inside, allowing the store to monitor their behaviour. Stores that share this information with other retailers could create a network to make sure shoplifters are checked.

That is a good sign of what facial recognition can achieve, but privacy advocates argue for the 99 per cent of us, it is an invasion of privacy that should not be allowed without prior approval from the customer.

There is already a growing trend for ways to message customers outside of the store, but if the store is able to recognise a returning customer, it should be able to send offers immediately to the phone.

These offers should improve store retention by bringing customers back, but they might also annoy customers that did not opt-in to these notifications.

Facial recognition is undoubtedly more invasive than a store knowing a credit card or phone number, since both of these can be changed at any time. With a facial database, the retailer could keep tabs on the customer for decades, without removing the information.

It will also be much harder for the customer to remove information, since the retailer will most likely hold onto the information and catalogue it without the customer’s approval.

The whole situation is extremely murky ground, but thankfully most of it is being dealt with in the US. Hopefully, if privacy advocates manage to win some rights for the customer, we will see those rights be brought over to the UK.