Who’s Watching You?

When with think of the term “social media,” broadly speaking, the first things that come to mind are our Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram accounts. However, has the time come when our own personal faces need to be included? It’s possible, especially after seeing this segment on 60 Minutes regarding “facial recognition software.” This video is quite long, but this article provides a quick snapshot. In summary, facial recognition is a rapidly growing technology that can recognize, track and analyze people’s faces. Multiple startups are focusing on software that can provide retailers data analytics when people enter and interact in their stores. Many retailers and software providers comment that the data it’s only being used to track “demographics” and “engagement,” but there are no regulations on U.S. companies to use this technology without consent.

This article highlights a $40/month software from a company in NYC company that states their product is being used at a Reebok store on Fifth Avenue.  Companies such as Apple and Google already use facial recognition when you’re “tagged” in a photo.  Furthermore, the 60 Minutes segment showed an example in which a store sent you coupons once they recognized you walking in (this particular one required your consent).  Interestingly, Google just announced today that they will NOT be allowing facial recognition software for Google Glasses due to mounting privacy pressures.  However, the bottom line is that the delineation between our offline and online worlds appear to closing with this technology and it’s potentially leaving little privacy for individuals.

My questions to the class: 

1)   Are you comfortable knowing that a retailer could be using software to track your face without your consent?

2)   On the other hand, what are your thoughts about U.S. government agency’s and their ability to use facial recognition technology? If they use it in an appropriate manner is it still too “big brother?”


5 thoughts on “Who’s Watching You?

  1. Forty dollars a month sounds pretty cheap for such a powerful technology. And big brands like Reebok are probably very easily able to afford it. I would assume once other brands understand the ability of the software, it will spread rapidly. I would be okay with a retailer using software to track my face, especially if it could provide me with easily accessible coupons. However, I do think that it should require my consent.

    As far as government agency’s using the technology, I do think this is a little too “big brother” of a move. However, if this could be used for the public good to help stop crime and prevent terrorism, I would probably be okay with the government using the technology.

  2. Absolutely not and I would not be surprised if Legislation is proposed at some point to prevent the use of this information for commercial gain. While there certainly are legitimate reasons and benefits to identify customers in your store, from both the store’s and customer’s perspective, this can be done in a manner that allows for the customers consent. The store can have the customers swipe in when they get to the store or provide an app that allows the customer to enable their phone or tracking.

    I think the US Government using this technology for national security reasons seems to be a much more palatable reason then trying to sell me something. This is not to say that civil liberty and libertarian groups should not hold the Government accountable for these programs as oversight would be expected.

  3. I don’t mind the concept of a retailer using this software to provide me with coupons that would be more relevant based on my past purchases, but I do think that retailers should be notifying their customers of what they’re doing. I’ve also read in a few articles that retailers are putting cameras into the eyes of the mannequins to also gather information on the types of people shopping in their stores. Whether it’s through email notifications, or having customers fill something in as they enter the stores, there has to be SOME kind of consent given, because I would imagine not having customer consent violates many of our privacy rights.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the government was already using facial recognition type software to track activity, especially if they have reason to believe that individuals are part of certain organizations/terrorist groups, so I don’t think this is too “big brother.” Utilizing this type of technology will hopefully help the government to prevent future terrorist attacks from occurring. Using the facial recognition software from a government perspective seems much more legitimate than from a retailer perspective, so it will be interesting to see how lawmakers enforce who is vs. who isn’t able to continue to use it.

  4. Like the three comments above, I completely agree that retailers using facial recognition technology is a complete violation of our privacy.

    Many of the articles that have been posted to this blog have made me more and more aware of the dangers of increased technology. Whether it is Nordstrom tracking our every move via GPS, or Reebok using facial recognition software to identify us for customized advertising, I feel as though my privacy is being invaded. There needs to be a line drawn somewhere – and consumer consent needs to be a critical part in a retailer’s implementation of these new technologies. If retailers start using these new tools, they will most certainly have some unhappy customers and protesters!

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, I completely agree with the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement and anti-terrorist units. I feel as though in the past year, the number of school shootings and terrorist attacks has sky rocketed, which is both infuriating and saddening. If this new facial recognition technology can help law enforcers minimize these occurrences, than I 100% support it. Although, I would bet that they already have access to this technology and are using it today..

    • I have my doubts that a $40/month software is very effective with facial recognition….

      I have a feeling that many people would be more comfortable with the government utilizing these technologies than retailers. And to an extent, governments should be able to utilize these, but with the proper oversights/check and balances.

      I would agree with the other commenters that for retailers to use this, there should be some sort of notification and an opt-out option. This will present many new issues, and will likely lead to many court debates and decisions that will need to further clarify the extent to citizen’s privacy.

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