High-end stores using facial recognition technology to identify celebrity customers
By Daily Mail Reporter 22 July 2013
The new technology scans customers against a database of celebrity photos and alerts store clerks when a match appears.
The facial-recognition software is being tested in a dozen undisclosed top stores and hotels in the U.S., the U.K., and the Far East, and works even if the person is wearing sunglasses or a hat, has gained weight, aged, changed hair colors, or grown facial hair.
The technology, created by NEC, reportedly works by analyzing video footage of people’s faces as they walk through a door, taking measurements to create a numerical code known as a ‘face template,’ the Sunday Times reports.
Once the system has detected a match, salesclerks are alerted by a computer, tablet or smartphone and given a list of the celebrity customer’s shopping preferences.
The new technology could quickly spark a fuse with store patrons.
The world’s leading social network began rolling out new technology earlier this week that automatically identifies and ‘tags’ people in photos uploaded to the website.
The move has worried European privacy regulators including the UK Information Commissioner’s Office.
In a statement, an ICO spokesperson said: ‘As with any new technology, we would expect Facebook to be upfront about how people’s personal information is being used.
‘The privacy issues that this new software might raise are obvious and users should be given as much information as possible to give them the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether they wish to use it.
‘We are speaking to Facebook about the privacy implications of this technology.’
Meanwhile industry commentators such as Sarah Jacobsson Purewal from PC World, said the tech was ‘super-creepy.’
‘It is bascially Facebook’s way of creating a huge, photo-searchable database of its users. And yes, it’s terrifying,’ she said.
Facebook’s ‘Tag Suggestions’ feature is designed to speed up the process of labeling friends in photos posted on Facebook.
If a friend ‘tags’ you in one photo, the technology will automatically scan your face and then try and find matches among all their pictures.
It will then suggest that they ‘tag’ these photos of you as well.
The sudden implementation of the feature, without warning, has sparked concerns among both privacy campaigners and officials.
The German commissioner for data protection, Peter Schaar, said Facebook had changed its Privacy Declaration without the user’s consent.
He told the Financial Times: ‘I do not think that Facebook’s action does conform to European and German data protection law.’
However, Facebook spokeswoman Sophy Tobias, said: ‘We have noted the comments from some regulators about this product feature and we are providing them with additional information which we are confident will satisfy any concerns they will have.’
She added that no ‘formal investigation’ had been launched against them.
But in the U.S, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre is trying to gather support from various privacy groups to back a complaint about the issue to the Federal Trade Commission.
And not all commentators are convinced that opting out will do you any good.
Ms Purewal said: ‘Opting out won’t keep Facebook from gathering data and recognizing your face – it’ll just keep people from tagging you automatically.’
‘And that will be the end of privacy as we know it–imagine, a world in which someone can simply take a photo of you on the street, in a crowd, or with a telephoto lens, and discover everything about you on the internet.’
HOW TO SWITCH OFF FACIAL RECOGNITION
- Sign into your Facebook account.
- Click on Account on the top right of the page and then Privacy Settings on the drop-down menu.
- Click on Customise settings.
- Scroll down to ‘Suggest photos of me to friends’ and click Edit.
- Change setting from Enabled to Disabled and save.
Internet security consultant firm Sophos first reported the change earlier this week, after Facebook users reported that the site had enabled the facial recognition option in the past few days without giving users any notice.
‘Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth,’ wrote Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos, in a blog post.
Facebook, which announced in December that it planned to introduce the service in the U.S., acknowledged that the feature was in fact now more widely available.
When asked about the Sophos blog post, a spokesman for the company conceded that they ‘should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process’.
They made clear that tag suggestions would only be made to friends of those pictured, and that the users can switch off the feature to stop their names being put forward.
But Marc Rotenberg, President of the non-profit privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, noted that other companies had offered more users more control when implementing facial recognition features.
He highlighted Apple’s iPhoto software, which let users decide whether or not to use the technology with their personal photo collections.
Facebook’s technology, by contrast, operates independently, analysing faces across a broad swathe of newly uploaded photos.
Mr Rotenberg said such a system raised questions about which personally identifiable information, such as email addresses, would become associated with the photos in Facebook’s database.
He also criticised Facebook’s decision to automatically enable the facial-recognition technology for Facebook users.
‘I’m not sure that’s the setting that people would want to choose. A better option would be to let people opt in,’ he said.
A serious concern intially expressed over Facebook and other social networks is the ability to publish photographs online without any express permission from those pictured.
Although it is possible for users to ‘de-tag’ themselves, those pictured cannot demand photographs removed.
The new feature will raise fears among those who have photographs they would prefer do not come to light.
Sarah Jacobsson Purewal suggests as well as switching off facial recognition that users post random pictures of trees and stuffed animals and tag them with their name.
A spokesman from Facebook said: ‘We launched Tag Suggestions to help people add tags of their friends in photos; something that’s currently done more than 100 million times a day.
‘Tag Suggestions are only made to people when they add new photos to the site, and only friends are suggested.’
It emerged last week that Google recently decided to hold back a similar application that would have let someone snap a picture of a person’s face using a smartphone, then use the internet to find out who that person is.
Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt told a conference he believed it was the first time his company’s engineers had completed a project and shelved it for privacy reasons, CNN reported.
Last year the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint about Facebook’s privacy practices with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which Mr Rotenberg said was still pending
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