On October 22, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a staff report "Facing Facts: Best Practices for Common Uses of Facial Recognition Technologies" to provide guidance to the increasing number of companies using facial recognition technologies to help protect consumers’ privacy as they use the technologies to create innovative new commercial products and services.
FTC Press Release: FTC Recommends Best Practices for Companies That Use Facial Recognition Technologies:
Facial recognition technologies have been adopted in a variety of contexts, ranging from online social networks and mobile apps to digital signs, the FTC staff report states. They have a number of potential uses, such as determining an individual’s age range and gender in order to deliver targeted advertising; assessing viewers’ emotions to see if they are engaged in a video game or a movie; or matching faces and identifying anonymous individuals in images.Facial recognition also has raised a variety of privacy concerns because – for example – it holds the prospect of identifying anonymous individuals in public, and because the data collected may be susceptible to security breaches and hacking.The FTC staff report recommends that companies using facial recognition technologies:
- design their services with consumer privacy in mind;
- develop reasonable security protections for the information they collect, and sound methods for determining when to keep information and when to dispose of it;
- consider the sensitivity of information when developing their facial recognition products and services – for example, digital signs using facial recognition technologies should not be set up in places where children congregate.The staff report also recommends that companies take steps to make sure consumers are aware of facial recognition technologies when they come in contact with them, and that they have a choice as to whether data about them is collected. So, for example, if a company is using digital signs to determine the demographic features of passersby, such as age or gender, they should provide clear notice to consumers that the technology is in use before consumers come into contact with the signs.
In the 2002 film Minority Report, Steven Spielberg imagined a world in which companies use biometric technology to identify us and serve us targeted ads. Ten years later, that vision is coming closer to reality. Having overcome the high costs and poor accuracy that once stunted its growth, one form of biometric technology – facial recognition – is quickly moving out of the realm of science fiction and into the commercial marketplace. . . .
The recent technological advances in the field of facial recognition undoubtedly provide a variety of benefits to consumers in the form of interesting products and services. However, as we have seen with other technologies, technological advances and the attendant business models they create often move faster than consumers’ awareness or comfort. The best practices recommended in this report can guide companies as they develop new products and services and craft the processes and systems that will govern their operations. Moreover, because implementing these practices will promote consumer trust and ensure the continued growth of this industry, companies currently have incentives to engage in them. 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. The FTC will continue to monitor this area and explore ways to work with industry, and educate and protect consumers.