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Facial recognition technology

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Definition Edit

Facial recognition technology is one of several biometric technologies, which identify individuals by measuring and analyzing their physiological or behavioral characteristics.

Overview Edit

There are generally four basic components to a facial recognition technology system: a camera to capture an image, an algorithm to create a faceprint (sometimes called a facial template), a database of stored images, and an algorithm to compare the captured image to the database of images or a single image in the database. The quality of these components determines the effectiveness of the system. In addition, the more similar the environments in which the images are compared — such as the background, lighting conditions, camera distance, and size and orientation of the head — the better a facial recognition technology system will perform.

Facial recognition technologies can perform a number of functions, including (1) detecting a face in an image; (2) estimating personal characteristics, such as an individual's age, race, or gender; (3) verifying identity by accepting or denying the identity claimed by a person; and (4) identifying an individual by matching an image of an unknown person to a gallery of known people.

According to FTC staff, academics, and industry experts, most modern facial recognition systems generally follow the steps shown in figure 1.


Facial recognition systems can generate two types of errorsfalse positives (generating an incorrect match) or false negatives (not generating a match when one exists).

Applications of Facial Recognition Technology Edit

Industry trade organizations and companies that use and develop facial recognition software have cited four major types of functions that they say do or will benefit from facial recognition technology: photograph identification and organization; safety and security; secure access; and marketing and customer service.

Photograph identification and organization Edit

One of the most well-known current uses of facial recognition technology is photograph identification in social networking applications. For example, some of the top social networking applications use facial recognition technology to identify individuals in photographs. This allows users to instantaneously link photographs from birthdays, vacations, and other events with people who participated. In addition, several applications use facial recognition technology to help individuals organize personal photographs stored online or on computer drives. For example, several photograph management software programs can detect individuals, such as family members, which the user has asked to be identified. The programs then automatically add new photographs of these individuals to a photograph album created by the user.

Safety and security Edit

Some retailers, casinos, financial institutions, and apartment buildings use facial recognition technology for safety and security purposes. Some retailers in the United States are testing systems that use facial recognition technology with closed-circuit television for theft prevention. Security cameras in a retail location compare images of individuals who walk into a store against a database of images of known shoplifters, members of organized retail crime syndicates, or other persons of interest. If a match is found, security personnel or management are alerted and provided whatever information is known about the individual.

Some casinos in the United States use facial recognition systems to help them identify known or suspected gambling cheaters, members of organized crime networks, or other known persons of concern. Facial recognition technology has also been incorporated into the security systems of some financial institutions to identify robbery suspects or accomplices. These systems deter crime and help identify suspects much faster than traditional means, which require staff to spend hours reviewing video recordings. Facial recognition systems have also been used in large apartment buildings to help identify perpetrators of crimes or other known persons of concern who seek to enter the property.

Secure access Edit

Facial recognition technology can be used to provide secure physical access control to buildings or other locked areas. For example, some systems unlock a door after a camera confirms the user's identity through facial recognition. In addition, applications exist that allow users to unlock personal computers and smartphones, log into video game consoles, or record workplace time and attendance by recognizing their face, in lieu of using a password or personal identification number. Some systems can distinguish whether an image is live to prevent the use of printed photographs to gain access. Industry representatives have noted that these applications have the benefit of not requiring consumers to remember a password and may eventually become an effective voluntary alternative to the use of passwords to access online transactions.

Marketing and customer service Edit

Industry trade organizations have said they envision retailers and others using facial recognition technology to target marketing and advertising more effectively and improve customer service. The Direct Marketing Association has stated that facial recognition technology has the potential to help businesses provide more customized and improved products and services, conduct market research and product development, provide more tailored and relevant messaging and advertising, and offer a more secure shopping experience.

Facial recognition technology is already used in digital signs — usually televisions or kiosks displaying advertisements in stores — with cameras that recognize characteristics of the viewer, such as gender or age range, and target advertisements accordingly. This allows retailers and advertisers to show relevant products and deals in real time, possibly leading to more sales. In the future, such signs may be used to identify customers by name and target advertising to them based on past purchases or other personal information available about them. Facial recognition systems can also be designed to alert staff when known customers enter the store. Retailers can use facial recognition systems to track customer movements around the store to provide the customer with a better shopping experience.

Other uses Edit

Several other current or potential uses for facial recognition technology have been cited by industry stakeholders:

  • Facial search engines. Internet search engines are being developed to allow users to conduct a search using a facial image, or to enter a name to search for images that match the name.
  • Online dating. Some online dating companies use facial recognition to determine the facial features a user finds most attractive and search their database for individuals with similar features.
  • Memory support. A memory support application for smartphones assists people with prosopagnosia (face blindness) or other memory-related conditions by confirming the identities and providing the names of family members, friends, caregivers, or others.
  • Hospitality. Facial recognition technology can be used by hotel and guest services industries to identify guests and enable personalized service without having to ask for a guest name or a room number.

Privacy issues Edit

Facial recognition technology continues to rapidly improve in accuracy. Individuals continue to upload billions of pictures to social networking and other Internet sites, creating a vast repository of facial images that are often linked to names or other personal information. The convergence of these two trends may make it technically feasible one day to identify almost any individual in a wide range of public spaces, according to some privacy advocacy organizations and others. Key privacy concerns related to the commercial application of facial recognition technology have generally centered around:

Reduction of anonymity Edit

Some privacy advocates have expressed concern that facial recognition technology could affect personal privacy by reducing individuals' ability to be anonymous when in a public or commercial space, such as a sidewalk or store. When most individuals are in public, they expect a few people or businesses to recognize their face, but fewer to connect a name to their face, and even fewer to associate their face with Internet behavior, travel patterns, or other profiles.

Commercial use of facial recognition technology for identification purposes has the potential to change this dynamic by allowing companies or individuals to collect information on any individual captured by a camera. Privacy advocacy organizations and academics have expressed concern that as being remotely identified in commercial settings becomes more common, some individuals may be uncomfortable visiting certain places, shopping at certain establishments, or assembling in public for a cause they support. Further, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has stated that individuals lose some control over their identity if they are not allowed to choose whether or not they want to remain anonymous in public. The organization has also noted that additional privacy concerns would be raised by use of the technology to identify not just who someone is, but whom they are with.

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