Americans: Facial Recognition Is Great As Long As It Keeps Me Safe


Remember how when you were growing up, your parents told you never to get into a car with strangers?

Boy, did that change with Uber.

“Kids – Uber home after soccer practice. I’ll be working late at the office.”

With technology comes convenience, and with convenience we often see privacy concerns get pushed aside.  A new study regarding facial technology completely reinforced that.

A national survey conducted in December was released this week.  In it, it was found that just 25% of Americans believe the federal government should strictly limit the use of facial recognition technology.

Those most likely to support a tradeoff in privacy were those who said they support the technology if it helps cops, reduces shoplifting… or speeds up security lines at the airport.

The survey found that only 18 percent of respondents agreed with strict limitations on facial recognition if it came at the expense of public safety… which is compared to 55 percent who disagreed.

Everyone likes to complain about privacy, right?  There’s no greater example than with social media.  You hear people yelling and screaming about how Facebook is mining their data without their permission and destroying their privacy.  And yet some of those same people yelling and screaming have no problem “checking in” at the hospital when they go into labor (burglars, take note) and announcing to the world they are seven centimeters dilated.

The truth is that we as Americans like to trade our privacy for convenience, even when we aren’t willing to admit it.  We like being reminded on Facebook that our anniversary is coming up and that we should buy flowers for our wife.  We like getting that ad reminding us that we forgot to buy that tool kit we looked at on Amazon.

Daniel Castro is the director of the Center for Data Innovation, which is the nonprofit and nonpartisan research institute that conducted the survey.

“People are often suspicious of new technologies, but in this case, they seem to have warmed up to facial recognition technology quite quickly,” he said Daniel Castro.

“Perhaps most importantly, Americans have made it clear they do not want regulations that limit the use of facial recognition if it comes at the cost of public safety,” Castro said.

Only a few months prior, a September study by the Brookings Institution found half of Americans wanted limitations of the use of facial recognition by law enforcement.  Of the respondents, 42 percent felt it invaded personal privacy rights.

Interestingly, as the accuracy of facial recognitions improves, we seem to be more comfortable with it.

The Center for Data Innovation survey revealed that 59 percent of Americans agree with the use of facial recognition technology if the software is right 100 percent of the time.  Compare that 39 percent who agreed with the technology if it is right 80 percent of the time.

Castro points out that the best way for police to gain public support for using the facial recognition technology is to make sure it’s up to date.

“People are willing to get behind police use of facial recognition technology as long as it is accurate and makes their communities safer,” he said.

The FBI is using Amazon’s face-matching technology called Rekognition in counterterrorism investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection has stepped up the use of the technology in airports to try and catch illegal immigrants and imposters.

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