Facial recognition is here to stay, no matter what Facebook claims

Facial recognition technology is still prone to errors, especially when identifying dark-skinned people.
Last year, Microsoft and Amazon decided to restrict the sale of facial recognition technology to law enforcement. About twenty US cities have passed legislation that restricts the use of the technology in various ways. However, privacy activists are demanding even more restrictions on facial recognition, as abuse by private companies and governments is lurking. Even applications that seem harmless or useful can eventually be used incorrectly, according to critics.
The tech sector is responding to the controversy with feints, rather than just shutting down sales, Claire Garvie says. Garvie is affiliated with the Center on Privacy and Technology, a think tank at Georgetown University, in Washington. "We haven't solved anything yet," she says. "It's still a fast-growing industry."
The big companies that have put the brakes on facial recognition still see the technology as a powerful tool with many areas of application and are investing heavily in its marketing. Microsoft has developed an ATM with an Australian bank that works with facial recognition instead of a bank card, and also advertises other applications. Amazon is selling its facial-recognition software Rekognition to a South Korean company that uses facial scans as a ticket to events, and to a Pittsburgh start-up developing equipment to help police detect trafficking in women.
Major retail chains, such as Walmart and Kroger, have said they won't use facial recognition software, but Macy's and other retailers want to use the technology against shoplifting. In a poll by Fight the Future, an organization that campaigns against facial recognition, only 19 of 53 retailers say they will not use facial recognition.
In October, investor platform AngelList reported a massive surge in funding for biometric companies. AngelList expects this sector to handle more than $40 billion over the next five years; by selling their technology to not only the police, but also educational institutions and gaming companies such as Roblox.
Dennis Moore, CEO of Presidio Identity (specializing in security of online identification systems and digital interaction), sees many possibilities. He says his system only collects personal information with the consumer's consent and does not share this data. 'Using biometrics isn't wrong,' says Moore. "Using biometrics without informed consent, that's wrong."
Israeli company Transmit Security helps banks and retail businesses use fingerprint or facial recognition as an identification method on smartphones and laptops. CEO Mickey Boodaei is concerned that the link between facial recognition and corporate privacy violations and police surveillance could slow the growth of biometrics in other application areas. 'On the other hand,' says Boodaei, 'we are seeing it being used more and more.'
Investors are not afraid to put money into potentially controversial companies. Oosto, formerly called AnyVision and used at Israeli military checkpoints, raised a total of $235 million in July from Soft Bank's Vision Fund and other investors. Even Clearview AI, plagued by negative publicity and privacy lawsuits, raised $30 million this summer.
Biometric features such as fingerprints work better and are less prone to prejudice and abuse

Absolute market leader

Opposition to facial recognition began to gain momentum in 2018 when two researchers, Joy Buolamwini, of the Algorithmic Justice League, and Timnit Gebru, who was at Microsoft at the time, showed that commonly used facial recognition software, including Microsoft's, was much more likely to make mistakes in humans. dark-skinned, especially women.
After the murder of George Floyd, in 2020, Amazon and Microsoft stopped selling facial recognition software to the police. This did not apply to sales to other enforcement agencies, however, and Microsoft continued to sell to law enforcement agencies outside the United States. The consequences were limited anyway, says Garvie of the Washington think tank, because neither tech company is really big on enforcement software. Those are less well-known companies, such as DataWorks Plus, NEC and Rank One Computing, and they just kept on selling.
For reasons of national security, too, pressure is being exerted not to restrict the development of technology. Almost every form of artificial intelligence is judged through the race with China, which is making great strides in this area. "We shouldn't let the Chinese become the absolute market leader in facial recognition software, that's a bad idea," said venture capitalist Matt McIlwain of the Madrona Venture Group. Garvie also believes that the US should continue to invest in artificial intelligence, partly to ensure privacy and objectivity, but she does see a limit to what you should allow under pressure from competition. "You don't want to win some games," she says.
Inioluwa Deborah Raji, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who worked with Buolamwini to demonstrate the shortcomings of Amazon's facial recognition software, says biometric features like fingerprints work better and are less prone to bias and abuse than facial recognition. "Facebook has taken a small step back," she says. 'We can certainly enforce regulations that these will be a few big steps.'


Translation: Hans Scholten

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