Facial Recognition, Data Privacy and Your Identity

For age old reasons, the government issued ID or passport has been the official link between our facial features and our identification. And the two in combination have been the traditional way of both authenticating and identifying us on an ad-hoc and transient basis at bars, banks, airports, and so much more…

The range of how our identity and facial features can be used in both private affairs and civil procedures is virtually endless, even without our knowledge or explicit consent. The regulation of usage is a difficult topic for unanimous agreement surrounding our privacy and safety in the same world where freedom of expression, movement and liberty contribute to our livelihoods.

Then we introduce technology to the equation.

Where technology adds a level of magic, comfort and efficiency to our lives, never experienced before relieving us of the boring, mundane and impossible it also adds a level of risk to our data privacy and security. And we all know that once something has been introduced to the internet, it’s near impossible to remove.

Take Google Nest Hub Max – we entrust it to connect us to our homes when we are far away for us to track and see for ourselves key events – saving energy, ensuring comfort and convenience whilst maximising the surveillance and security of our babies, dogs and homes. But can we trust where Google is storing our most sensitive data and what they are doing with it? Nest uses Face Match, facial recognition software, which is enabled by the front facing always-on camera for security, to understand which user is using it and for video calls. If the feature is on, the detection is constant and the security of our data, how it is being processed and stored, cannot be guaranteed. The detection can however be turned off, but at the detriment to functionality.

Turn to Apple photos, Google Photos and Facebook tagging – instances where facial recognition is applied to data you provide, aka your photos. The ease of photography, the popularity of the selfie and the constant desire to update your friends, family and followers on your day-to-daymeans bulky streams consisting of hundreds if not thousands of photos. Manually organising these photos is administrative and time-consuming, in other words, something AI and automation can now do for us. So when Apple’s algorithms can identify the faces of your family and friends, even your pets, organise them and allow you to search by face, does this functionality make the security risk worth it?  

Facebook’s facial recognition feature notifies you when others upload photos of you. Whilst recent developments enable an individual to opt-out of this function, there is no guarantee that Facebook itself is not scanning and processing your image. Harnessing your identity to potentially create an online profile of you to sell to advertisers and who knows what else. Likewise with Google – which uses facial recognition and automation to autotag photos of you and your friends – you can also choose to opt out, but you have no control over what your friends may decide to do with photos of you and where that data publicly ends up.

All of these technologies and instances of applied facial recognition also enable facial mapping, providing swift and secure entry into our smart phones – deeming them impenetrable when in the wrong hands. Once unlocked, a further safeguarding layer of facial recognition is provided for mobile payments like Apple Wallet, which unlike other touch-less forms of payment, has no limit.

Whilst there is an enigma surrounding where our facial image data actually lives inside of Google, Facebook and Apple’s servers, how secure it is and how effective is the encryption?  One thing is certainly clear, the multi-purposes of our devices and their built in sensitivity to our changing environments that simplify and augment our lives  – be it Nest which knows, in real time, the occupancy of our homes and our preferred weather, or our phones which house our banking details alongside thousands of images, text and browser history – the future of our data privacy begs the question:

Is the cost of convenience and our need to publish and document our life’s moments  worth more right now than the risk of jeopardizing our privacy and possibly identify?


Up next: Data Privacy Part Four


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Alexa, How are you using my data?

Smart Home technology is a well saturated market with technology that just a short few years ago many thought could not be possible. We have long talked about voice assistants and video enabled devices but now technology that was once thought to be futuristic has arrived, seemingly omnipresent in many households around the global. Not only are Artificial Intelligence enhanced video enabled devices now available but they come in many varieties, from home protection to two-way video chatting with your pet.


Video “chat” with a pet?….

When did animals start chatting?


With these ever present devices in so many households – cameras, digital assistants, smart TVs, smart thermostats and more – are we enhancing our physical privacy or actually putting it in jeopardy? Are the benefits, such as automation, smart phone remote capabilities and more, worth the risk of data privacy?

Are you taking advantage of Smart Tech, or is it taking advantage of you?

So what’s the big deal if your smart home has data that’s making your life easier? Amazon’s Alexa can make it easier for you to order more household items. Google Home can integrate with Google Nest to allow you to control your A/C by simply telling it to change the temperature. All great features that help make things a little bit more convenient in our day to day, but what exactly are these companies doing with our data?

Amazon is pretty transparent in regards to the voice data Alexa is storing, a quick look on their website tells us that. But what about Google, their biggest competitor in the Smart Home space? Google is fairly transparent as well, though as previously mentioned in the intro post, changing your privacy settings may impact your service. Google’s privacy policy website tells us that they are mostly using your saved data to improve searches and targeted ads, see this video below:

These are great examples of transparency from these corporations and they outline relatively mundane uses for your data but it’s still important to understand. The future consequences of these corporations having your stored data should be the biggest concern. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said in 2010:

“One of the things that eventually happens … is that we don’t need you to type at all,” later adding: “Because we know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less guess what you’re thinking about.”

Eric Schmidt

Adapt that quote to the Smart Home and eventually Google doesn’t need you to speak to Google Home, rather the A/C just changes to suit your pre-determined preferences when you arrive home because of patterns in your stored data combined with Artificial Intelligence. Alexa doesn’t need you to tell her to order paper towels, they just show up because all of your stored data has told them it’s time for another shipment.

While these specific examples of transparency regarding data storage are promising, consider how much you’re willing to give away and where the line is with your data privacy. Consider the fact that these devices are always listening and while the corporations behind them may be simply using this data to “train” their AI, the government or third party apps could be using this data for other reasons.

In 2018 law enforcement subpoenaed Amazon for Amazon Echo data as evidence in a criminal trial for murder. The lines between privacy, technology and criminal justice are changing daily. Amazon is not the only tech company that has had this happen, Fitbit and Apple have run into similar situations.  While most technology companies are quick to defend consumer privacy the question still stands:


How much of your personal privacy are you willing to give away?


Letting AI into our daily lives is not something to fear but maintaining control over data and privacy should be a top concern. There’s many ways to protect your privacy, or at least limit your exposure, while utilizing the benefits of Smart Home tech. Awareness is the first step in achieving enhanced privacy. Visit 101 Data Protection Tips for a comprehensive list of ways to attempt to protect your privacy.


Up next: Data Privacy Part Four


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Data Privacy Series

When’s the last time you read the terms and conditions before clicking “accept” as you downloaded the hottest new app to your smartphone? Do you really know what companies are doing with your data from your search history, the pictures on your phone, or even your personal health records?

How our data,
personal details and digital patterns, is being used by the scores of apps,
programs, and devices we interact with on a daily basis remains a mystery. When
we click “Accept” on the terms and conditions page, usually in a
hurry, we are blindly 
“choosing” to opt in to whatever data collection and privacy
infringements the developer has built into the technology. What’s more, most
companies use vague statements on their websites regarding what they are doing
with your data and even threaten to impact your service if you decide not to
share your data.

For example, this snippet comes directly from Nest’s FAQ’s:

Nest FAQs

How important is that app or device?  Is it worth signing over your digital rights?


Join the
SolvetheUnsolvable team this month to explore how private your data really is…

Facial Recognition,
friend or foe? Family Heritage Mapping, a key to the past or losing control of
your future?… Who else is checking in on grandma? The hidden dangers in Smart
Home technology. Are you using your cell phone, or is it using you?

Check back in on
Wednesdays this October to learn more about data privacy…

Up next: Data Privacy Part Four


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