FTC Wants To Make Facial Recognition Less Creepy
October 23, 2012

FTC Issues Guidelines For Facial Recognition Technology

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

In August, an ad agency with offices in Atlanta and Nashville began making headlines with an invention called Facedeals. The most basic and general idea behind Facedeals is straightforward enough: Consumers who check in to certain establishments on Facebook will get special deals from said establishment. The kicker here, however, is the way these customers are checked in to these establishments online: Facial Recognition. A camera posted by the door automatically scans a customer´s face and, should that customer be a member of the Facedeals program, they´ll automatically be checked into said establishment and sent a coupon via smartphone alert.

Facial recognition is improving, which allows for this sort of Facedeals implementation. However, the ability to use biometrics to instantly recognize one´s face has endless potential to be very, very creepy. Today, the FTC has jumped in to get ahead of this technology, issuing a report titled “Facing Facts: Best Practices for Common Uses of Facial Recognition Technologies.”

For all the potential benefits of facial recognition technology, the FTC claims there are also potential pitfalls which should be avoided.

“Fortunately, the commercial use of facial recognition technologies is still young. This creates a unique opportunity to ensure that as this industry grows, it does so in a way that respects the privacy interests of consumers while preserving the beneficial uses the technology has to offer,” reads the FTC report.

To begin, the FTC suggests that any company which employs this technology should make users aware that facial recognition is being used, giving them the option to opt out of having their data collected.

The FTC report also suggests social networks be upfront and clear with their users about what facial recognition is and what type of information is collected as a byproduct. As social networks are populated with many underage individuals, the FTC also recommends the option to have this technology turned off and have any data previously collected to be permanently deleted.

Finally, the FTC report states there are at least 2 situations wherein a company should absolutely get the customer´s consent before collecting or using the data from facial recognition technology. In the first situation, these companies should obtain a customer´s consent before using the biometric data in a way which was not previously outlined when the data was collected. If, for example, a social networking site once used facial recognition to check a user into their account but now wants to sell this data to an advertising firm, the FTC report suggests the social networking company must get further consent first.

Secondly, the FTC states that companies should not use the images taken by facial recognition technology to help another person identify the first person. For instance, a person could not go into the bar and ask if another person had previously been there, using the images as a way to distinguish the person without consent.

This last situation could prove tricky for law enforcement though, as it seems to imply that officers could not walk into an establishment and ask to see the collected images without consent. According to the press release concerning this new report, the FTC is offering these points simply as guidelines.

“However, to the extent the recommended best practices go beyond existing legal requirements, they are not intended to serve as a template for law enforcement actions or regulations under laws currently enforced by the FTC,” reads the report.

In the end, the report states that if companies take into consideration elements such as privacy and transparency while facial recognition is in its infancy, the industry should grow in a way which will make all feel a little more comfortable about cameras knowing where we are at any given point.