Facebook … Face Recognition Woes


Facebook is in the news yet again, this time for having to face a class action lawsuit for allegedly gathering biometric information without users’ explicit consent, via facial recognition technology.

What Facial Recognition Technology?

A facial recognition technology feature in Facebook’s platform suggests who might be present in uploaded photos, based on an existing database of faces, and uses “tag suggestions” technology.

The feature works by trying to detect any faces in an uploaded photo, standardises and aligns those faces for size and direction, then, for each face, Facebook computes a face signature which is a mathematical representation of the face in that photo. Finally, the face signatures are run through a stored database of user face templates to look for similar matches

What’s The Problem?

The problem in legal terms is that the software allegedly gathers (and presumably stores) biometric information about individuals i.e. makes and stores face templates of them, without them giving their explicit consent for it to do so. This sounds as though it may breach Illinois state law – this is the state from which the class of people in the lawsuit question is made up.

The court order is reported to apply to Facebook users in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored a face template after 7 June 2011.

What Are The Chances?

Although Facebook reportedly intends to fight the case and believes that it has no merit, the fact that the judge, James Donato, has ruled to certify a class of Facebook users, and has said that Facebook could be expecting billions in statutory damages, does not appear to bode well for Facebook.

Not Available Here

Privacy regulations mean that the facial recognition and tagging feature is not available in Europe or Canada, and can be turned off in settings for US users.

Facebook also said back in December 2017 that users would be notified if a picture of them was uploaded by someone else, even if they hadn’t been tagged in it.

Hearing In A Crowd Technology Developed By Google

Just as Facebook appears to be in trouble over voice technology, Google has announced that its research team has just developed technology that can recognise individual voices in a crowd, just as a human can.

The tech giant has made a demonstration video for the technology. The video shows how, with lots of people talking at once in a room, a user can select a particular face and hear the soundtrack of just that person. Users of this technology can also select the context of a conversation, and only references to that conversation are played, even if more than one person in the room is discussing that subject matter.

The AI technology behind the feature was developed using data collated from 100,000 videos of lectures and training videos on YouTube.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With GDPR on the way, the case against Facebook’s voice recognition technology is another reminder of how businesses need to get to grips with the sometimes complicated area of consent. Video images and face templates of individual faces are also likely to qualify as personal data that consent for collection and storage will be needed for under GDPR. Privacy, as well as security, is a right that is getting even greater protection in law.

The technology from Google that can recognise individual voices, and can follow individual conversations in crowds could unlock valuable business opportunities in e.g. improving the function and scope of hearing aids, or improving video conferencing tools by enabling them to take place in the middle of an office space rather than only in a separate, soundproofed meeting room (provided other visual distractions are minimised). It seems that new technology is beginning to be developed to help tackle age-old human challenges.