Face-Recognition Technology: Its Uses and Dangers

Ever-increasing levels of competition and consumer demands call for more clever ways to mine behaviour. Given that facial-recognition software allows for the effortless collection of customer data, its adoption is no surprise. In fact, a 2015 survey conducted by Computer Science Corp found that almost thirty per cent of UK retailers are already using the technology.

Greater security: prevention of shoplifting and fraud

At its present level, the technology can establish shoppers’ race, gender and approximate age, and it can identify them as a returning customer. Retailers have argued that this represents significantly enhanced security. Cross-referencing determines whether a visitor has been caught shoplifting before.

Identity thieves typically use photo identification that they have stolen or found. Security systems that integrate facial recognition make it easier to catch out these instances of fraud.

A personalised shopping experience

Online platforms have made shopping more efficient, convenient and personalised for consumers. Facial-recognition in brick-and-mortar stores would allow for the same results. By collecting information on how consumers move through the store, how long they look at specific items and what their expressions are as they do so, retailers claim they would be able to optimise the physical layout of their stores and offer the same level of targeted advertising that online sites enjoy.

Then there is the simple convenience factor. Instead of struggling to recall PINs or passwords, you need only come equipped with your face. And why stop there? Pepper the Robot, designed by Aldebaran Robotics, can distinguish between and remember faces. Coupled with voice recognition and a tablet, she displays the products you’re looking for and offers suggestions based on your facial expressions.

The invasion of privacy and data manipulation concerns

Given the rich data that facial recognition so fluidly provides, there are concerns about invasive and potentially dangerous applications. The data could be used for manipulative or predatory advertising, or at its worst, to support discrimination when consumers’ race, gender or credit history are accounted for.

Privacy advocates decry not only the volume of information but also the manner in which it is collected. Is it acceptable to collect sensitive facial image data without consent? Collection is done at a comfortable and inconspicuous distance; couple that with how valuable the information is, and companies may be sorely tempted. Shoppers could have no awareness of how that data will be used and shared.

Issues of consent and privacy, then, must be painstakingly considered in order to balance the benefits of facial recognition with the trust and loyalty of the customer base.

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