A study conducted in 2008 estimated that an average American user would need somewhere close to 244 hours per year to read privacy policies for all websites he/she visits and this study was conducted well before we had a plethora of apps on our phones. Frankly speaking, who has the time for all that? Just click on I agree and move ahead (don’t do that, someone might take your soul, no seriously they might).
This is where we make the biggest mistake, take for example the class activity we were asked to do for the upcoming week. Poor lady, using just her image (which was her display picture from Twitter and Pinterest btw), I have found out her workplace, her relatives (husband, father, mother, sister, son, and daughters), her contact details, places she has visited, her interests and that her daughter just graduated (best of luck to her!). Spending just a couple of dollars, I would have even had her residential address and land purchase details which are registered in her and her husband’s name.
All of this with a simple reverse-image search on Google? Is it too far-fetched to think that someday government would make a technology to just scan your face to track your online activity (Sounds like a freaky Black Mirror episode from season one, eh?). Governments across the world are using facial recognition technology for immigration purposes and are calling for wider use of such technology in critical service areas such as welfare payments and credit lending. But, these are shared services, how long before such a sophisticated piece of technology lands in private sector where, to be honest, any form of data that helps targeted advertising (micro / effective advertising) is pure gold.
Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) for commercial use
High-end retailers have been using FRT to spot celebrities in stores. What it essentially does is it scans all customers who enter the store, maps them against the database to determine who is a celebrity and sends an alert to store assistant every time it spots one to ensure that the celebrities are given special attention. This also increases the chances of achieving higher sales as the system prompts preferred styles, colors and the right fit for the given body type of the spotted celebrity. It is not exactly a wild idea to think that such an idea can be extended to scan everyone who enters the store and map them against the database obtained from shared services and then create a profile based on your purchase history, would that creep you out or would it just be a part of personalized shopping experience?
Ethical issues with facial recognition technology
FRT, as mentioned above, is a double-edged sword, notably, Microsoft raised this issue with U.S. government as also Australia’s proposed system is riddled with loopholes. There is no clear answer to whether FRT is more beneficial than harmful or vice-versa. The bigger concern is that invasion of privacy has become more acceptable under the guise of added features. Apple introduced FRT with iPhone X, it takes utmost care to protect its data and credit to them for that. However, it normalizes the technology. Other manufacturers would look at it as a point of parity in terms of positioning, try to match it and over time it may even become the new norm in the industry. Would you then still be comfortable knowing your facial identity may be sold for whatever may be deemed as the right price and right cause only to receive several (unwanted and possibly disturbing) targeted ads?