There has been a lot of talk about facial recognition lately. People are wondering if it’s a tool that can be used for good or for evil.

What is Facial Recognition?

Most people have a vague idea of what facial recognition is. After all, it’s shown often on crime shows. That’s how they get the bad guys.

But to get technical, facial recognition software measures and matches the unique characteristics of your face. It does this for the purposes of identification or authentication. It looks at faces in images and then matches them against a list of faces in a database.

For example, a terrorist on a watch list like in crime shows.

Law enforcement, border control, shops, and sites like Facebook use this technology.

Positives of Facial Recognition

The positive of facial recognition is that it can catch the bad guys like on TV. Terrorists in airports can be identified and taken into custody before they do any harm.

States use it to scan driver’s licenses to help prevent identity fraud.

The facial recognition app also allows protection with cell phones. Only your face will unlock it for use, stopping anyone from stealing your phone.

Negatives of Facial Recognition

For most people, facial recognition isn’t worth it. Some critics go as far to say we’re only a few steps away from George Orville’s 1984.

Facebook’s Legal Troubles in Europe

One example of the danger of this technology is Facebook. The social network is in hot water due to its use of the technology.

In 2012, Facebook withdrew its facial recognition technology in Europe after objection from data privacy groups. Now it wants to bring it back and people are wary.

The difference this round is that you can turn Facebook facial recognition off in your settings. Back in 2012, there was no way of turning it off, which is why there was an outcry.

Facebook claims that technology is to help users detect when someone is using their photo for a different profile.

This often happens when someone is trying to catfish. Catfishing is when someone creates a completely fake persona and then begins to have relationships with unsuspecting victims.

The Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland is wondering why Facebook needs to scan all these faces at all.

Facebook’s Legal Trouble in America

It’s not just Europe that’s feuding with Facebook, the U.S. is also taking the social network to task.

A U.S. federal judge has recently ruled that Facebook will have to face a class action lawsuit that alleges their use facial recognition on photos without permission. They do this by scanning your photos and suggesting you tag your friends.

The plaintiff which are a group of Facebook users in Illinois say that Facebook collects and store user’s faces as part of a “face template” without notice or consent.

The social network has been doing this since 2011 and the lawsuit was filed in 2015.

A Facebook spokesperson says that the case has no merit and that they’re going to fight it. They argue that they have been upfront about the tag suggestion feature. There are directions to turn it off in the company’s help center.

What’s worrying is that Facebook has more than 259 billion user upload photos for their database, with more than 350 million more uploaded every day. They could have the largest database in the world.

Other Issues with This Technology

Stores have started to use facial recognition to scan shopper’s faces to see who keeps coming back and offering them special discounts.

Microsoft has patented a billboard that identifies you as you walk by and will serve you ads based on what you’ve bought before.

Plus, over the last five years, a secret surveillance company founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer has been building a database of faces. The company has been using Facebook, YouTube, and other websites to create a large database.

The company, called Face-Int, was originally called Terrogence. Both versions of the company have been venders for the U.S. government. They have been providing tech to the NSA, U.S. Army, and other agencies.

Why It’s Worrying

All this is happening while we don’t know it. We may no longer be anonymous while we walk around and live our daily lives. We won’t have control over who accesses our faces and what they do with them.

There have been some concerns that facial recognition software has a race problem as well. That it can detect Caucasian faces better than African American faces. This means that innocent African Americans could be confused for a criminal more often.

This technology can be used for good, but it seems to be hard to tell who is using it and what they are using it for.