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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