The tech has been in the hot seat a lot lately, with huge companies like Facebook (now Meta) being targeted and told in no uncertain terms that they are to remove their facial recognition tech post haste. Though this technology has been around for a long time already (a decade, in Facebook’s case), it is only in recent years that users have begun to take a hard look at how the many applications of this technology might really be affecting them and their rights. The social media giant is now deleting the tech and all of the data associated with it: the facial scans of more than one billion users. This data has been the source of many complaints about human rights and privacy violations and has even led to a class-action lawsuit.
Facial recognition technology is not only used on sites like Facebook. Many online casinos now use the tech as well, and there is a significant concern in the industry as to whether it is fair for an online gambling site to be able to read a player's emotions. Many have moved off of sites that use this technology and have headed over to sites that don't, like Grosvenor Casinos.
A group of scientific researchers from Cambridge University has created a website featuring online games that point out the risks of this facial recognition technology. They are hoping that this site will, at the very least, start conversations for people who had previously not given much thought to the many applications and potentially harmful uses that the data gathered by this tech could have.
While there are, of course, many wonderful ways that this technology can be used- for identifying criminals, for road safety, to protect the data that you have on your devices - it stands to reason that there are also a lot of potential problems that might arise from it making too many appearances in our daily lives. The Equality and Human Rights Commission came forward only last year with their concerns about how the tech may be used to stamp out freedom of expression, or even as a way for unscrupulous police officers to discriminate against citizens. There are concerns around the fact that the public does not yet know the extent to which these programs have been utilized. Uses could range from hiring for open positions to gaining insight into customer opinions, helping with risk identification in airports, and even seeing how engaged students are during class or if they are keeping up with their homework.
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Dr Alexa Hagerty, who is the leader of the project undertaken by the University of Cambridge, sees a problem in the very nature of the program. She believes that, yes, this facial recognition technology could be helpful in many ways, but that it is more than just facial recognition. This tech reads our very emotions, the things that we are feeling on the inside, private things, by monitoring our facial expressions. The project was undertaken by the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. This group of researchers has an excellent reason to believe that professionals should be having a much more open and broader conversation with the public about the realities of this tech. Some governments are putting it to good use. The Uttar Pradesh government has stated that they are making use of the tech to identify distressed women in public, to avoid harassment, and assist when it has taken place. However, the group’s concerns regarding the use of the tech’s accuracy, about its use to promote racial discrimination in the wrong hands, and the long-term ramifications of taking personal emotions into public space, are cause for concern. Dr Hagerty goes on to say that the public is only now beginning to see that we are not users of this tech, but the ones that the tech is being used on. She calls for democracy in the use of such controversial technology. She rightly says that we, the citizens of the world, ought to be well educated enough on the subject to have valid opinions and that our input should be taken into account by the bodies who monitor this sector.
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The research undertaken by this dedicated team of scientists has brought to light many concerning, previously unseen facets of facial recognition technology now being employed in many sectors worldwide. They hope that publishing this research and keeping their game website live, will encourage the public to look a little deeper into this tech that has been slowly and, in some cases, insidiously integrated into our lives. Once we know enough about it, we can make up our own minds about how we really feel and reach out to our governments and regulatory bodies to ask them to keep it in check.
While it is almost inevitable that facial recognition technology will become a more significant part of our everyday lives, it is essential that we understand it well enough to engage with it safely and productively. It is vital that this technology works for the public, that the public is the user and not the test subject. We hope that the information that we have provided in this article is helpful and illuminating, and we hope that it will inspire you to dig a little deeper into the technology that surrounds us.