Does the use of facial recognition technology need be reined in?

The U.S. government is taking on the issue Thursday of facial recognition technology and people's privacy. Tech companies are among the groups coming to Washington, D.C., to help create the first voluntary guidelines for this technology.

Last May, “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl reported on the business behind facial recognition technology and found that even one of its inventors called it too intrusive.

Tim Stevens, an editor at large for CBS partner CNET, joined “CBS This Morning” to discuss the impact these guidelines could have on the technology. Stevens told the co-hosts that there are already many uses for it.

“There are certainly plenty of applications and plenty of desire for lots of different industries to know who you are and where you’re going and basically to track your information,” said Stevens. “And the easy way to do that is to look at your face. You can really accurately determine who somebody is just by looking at their face. You can measure the distance between their pupils, the size of their nose, the size of their mouth, and even if you grow a beard, you shave your beard, put on sunglasses, these systems can still tell who you are.”  

Stevens told the co-hosts that what he believes is the scariest thing about this technology is that companies are already creating databases of people's photos.

“For example, a lot of people don’t know that Facebook is actually tracking what you look like, and they are using that to tag pictures of you that are uploaded," said Stevens. "Whether or not you know that, or whether or not you approve of that, it’s happening because it’s automatically opting you in. You have to explicitly go in and tell Facebook not to do this.”

On its site, Facebook states: “We currently use facial recognition software that uses an algorithm to calculate a unique number (‘template’) based on someone's facial features, like the distance between the eyes, nose and ears. This template is based on your profile pictures and photos you've been tagged in on Facebook. We use these templates to help you tag photos by suggesting tags of your friends. If you un-tag yourself from a photo, that photo is not used to create the template. We also couldn't use a template to recreate an image of you.”

Currently, there are no laws that regulate the use of facial recognition technology, and the government is attempting to recommend voluntary rules for the industry about what can be done with this data.

“Right now," Stevens said, "there are no rules at all."

  • Shoshana Davis

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