On Facial Recognition, Data Privacy and more

Photo by  Kristina Flour
  • Last week, from Microsoft President Brad Smith’s blog post “Facial recognition technology: The need for public regulation and corporate responsibility”: 
  • "Facial recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression. These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products ...
  • "Facial recognition will require the public and private sectors alike to step up – and to act … only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so.”

  • From “Facebook’s Push for Facial Recognition Prompts Privacy Alarms” (NY Times - July 9, 2018):
  • more than a dozen privacy and consumer groups, and at least a few officials, argue that the company’s use of facial recognition has violated people’s privacy by not obtaining appropriate user consent. The complaints add to the barrage of criticism facing the Silicon Valley giant over its handling of users’ personal details …
  • "Facebook’s push to spread facial recognition also puts the company at the center of a broader and intensifying debate about how the powerful technology should be handled ... While proponents view it as a high-tech tool to catch criminals, civil liberties experts warn it could enable a mass surveillance system."

  • From “Why protecting privacy is a losing game today—and how to change the game” (Brookings Institute – July 13, 2018):
  • More and more data about each of us is being generated faster and faster from more and more devices, and we can’t keep up. It’s a losing game both for individuals and for our legal system
  • "The data explosion that has put privacy and security in the spotlight will accelerate. Most recent proposals for privacy legislation aim at slices of the issues this explosion presents. As the data universe keeps expanding, more and more of it falls outside the various specific laws on the books.”

  • Finally, as the Orlando, Florida Police Department tested Amazon’s Rekognition facial recognition software, Deputy Chief Mark Canty said, “We’re just at the infancy stages. We’re testing the technology. There’s going to be a lot more discussions and a lot more things that have to happen before it’s actually going to be implemented with the Orlando Police Department.”


  • While some comments above focus on facial recognition, the broader privacy debate  includes technologies such as AI/big data, Internet of Things, biometrics -  and content beyond social media, in areas such as personal finance, purchasing, employment, medical/ health, genetic and criminal information.
  • Data privacy concerns extend beyond large Internet players (such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent) and include other technology, media, telecom, e-commerce and financial players as well as government and educational institutions.
  • Factors in the data privacy debate include: 1) how data is shared with and/or appropriated by third parties, 2) how data is used (and has harm been incurred) and 3) the potential benefits to a community/society - improved security, economic improvement, etc.
  • As the European Union leans toward more data privacy regulation, and the U.S. debates economic/privacy trade-offs, China is applying facial recognition (and AI) to activities such as tracking/fining jaywalkers, ATM fund withdrawals, hotel check-in, purchasing fast food and more.  


Paul Dravis