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Is Facial Recognition As Scary As It Seems?

It gets a lot of bad press, and comparisons are often made to Orwellian futuristic nightmares, but is facial recognition really the malevolent force it's made out to be? Or could it have a positive impact on our daily life?

AuthorPatrick Johnson, October 30th, 2020

Facial recognition has been around for many years now and many of us use this futuristic technology simply by looking at our phone. In its essence, facial recognition is a biometric technology that recognises and collates distinctive facial features in order to verify someone’s identity – such as the systems used here at Veriff. 

It’s a topic that is pretty unavoidable and it seems as though everyone is talking about it (even on HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’) and debating the advantages and disadvantages.

What causes the debate?

It’s widely accepted that the combination of unique mathematical and dynamic patterns that biometric facial recognition uses makes it one of the most secure identity verification systems available. Despite this, there are still campaigners out there who are concerned about the legal implications of it, and accuse it of being an ‘unethical tool’ that is being used to spy on the general public. 

Let’s face it (excuse the pun), someone’s face is an extremely personal commodity and the idea that a certain technology can gain access and use our features for unknown purposes is inherently scary. However, we have to accept that it is really no different to any other types of personal information, and when handled responsibly it is actually much safer than an unsecured signature or data form. 

Facial recognition has the power to do a lot of good and the general public has to find a way to accept this technology and look to embrace it in a positive way.

According to figures from Allied Market Research, the facial recognition market is going to grow to $9.6 billion by 2022. This shows that it’s not going to go away so we should look to enjoy its benefits and use it to our advantage where we can. 

The teams at Veriff are certainly doing this. Our efficient identity verification service is currently helping countless companies and organizations across the world look after their customers and protect their data. And long may this continue as we fight the battle against fraudulent activity.

So, what are some of the positive applications of facial recognition? And what does the future hold for this technology?

Positive applications of facial recognition

1. Security

One of the main benefits of facial recognition has to be safety and security. It is increasingly being used in the real world (not online) to help uncover criminals, locate missing persons, fight petty crime and identify persons of interest. 

An interesting case study of this is in the UK where it is helping the police force to identify persons of interest, gang members or wanted criminals by providing additional surveillance intelligence. An extra benefit here is that it comes without bias, as technology does not recognize gender, age or race and only sees data. 

2. Travelling

Facial recognition technology has become a normal sight at many travel hubs and ports around the world. Biometric passports are used to reduce queueing time and enhance security. Algorithms can also be employed to match physical characteristics against photos and videos of people's faces, which have been collected from visas, passports and other sources.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has stated that it has an aim to check 97% of international passengers by 2023 with facial recognition.

3. Identity Verification

Proving you are who you say you are, whether in the online or offline world is essential if you want to get anything done these days. Identity verification has to be done securely, efficiently and responsibly and facial recognition technology allows this to happen. 

Passwords, ID cards, signatures and other inconveniences that can be lost or forgotten are quickly being replaced by robust facial recognition systems that can help verify an identity in the blink of an eye.

4. Banking

Although banks around the globe have become much more sophisticated in their procedures and login techniques, there is still massive room for improvement. Facial recognition technologies are slowly being introduced into this sector and it could be that those annoying one-time passwords may soon be a thing of the past. 

Combatting hackers and fraudulent behavior in this sector is key, and things like deepfakes can be prevented through the use of ‘liveness detection’. Interestingly, it might not just be online banking that sees a change thanks to facial recognition, but physical branches and ATMs could well start using it as well. 

Predictions for the future of facial recognition

1. Emotional facial recognition

As the technology develops, it seems fair to predict that particular facial emotions will soon be able to be recognized. Cameras on devices that Amazon’s Alexa might well be able to detect what emotion you are displaying and provide you with some relevant content: “Would you like me to play some happy music?” 

This phenomenon goes deeper into the social media world as well, with Facebook, Google or Apple feeds able to recognize if content makes you happy, sad or unengaged and will therefore be able to tailor it accordingly.  

2. Health implications

As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates, people are becoming much more wary about touching things unnecessarily or coming into close contact with people when it can be avoided. 

Facial recognition technologies will not only be able to help people complete tasks like payments in a non-contact manner but could also be combined with other biometrics as well. For example, it could be combined with temperature detection technology and thus be used in applications where people’s health is being monitored. 

3. Retail

Quite an obvious future market for facial recognition is its use within the retail sector. It could very easily be used to make shopping experiences quicker, more convenient and more tailored to the consumer’s needs. 

Shorter lines at the checkout will be helped along by ‘face pay’ technologies, known shoplifters will be instantly recognized as they enter a premises and customer loyalty will soar as people will enjoy more personalized experiences. 

Merchants like iProov and Mastercard are already starting to offer facial recognition authentication that is robust enough for payment and similar high-end verification tasks. 

4. Marketing 

We’ve already touched on it briefly, but the opportunities that facial recognition technologies create for marketing companies seem endless. Marketers will be able to better understand their customers, evaluate their needs and respond accordingly. As we scroll online or even walk through the streets, we may soon only ever see adverts that are unique to our circumstances. 

Facial recognition certainly gets its fair share of bad publicity, but this can largely be attributed to a lack of understanding of the potential positives of the technology. As long as companies that use it are responsible and well-regulated then we have to face facts and accept that it is going to be part of our world going forwards.

Patrick Johnson

Copywriter

Patrick takes care of the voice of Veriff - coordinating the copy throughout our brand and product and making sure we're constantly delivering engaging and excellent content.

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