Facial recognition: leading to a safer or unsafer world?

As the name implies, this technology is capable of identifying a person from an image or video by comparing facial features such as shape and size of the eyes, nose and mouth as well as the distance between each other, within a database.

This system, might have seemed part of a sci-fi movie 50 years ago, but now we can find it everywhere: from governments scanning faces in CCTV footage to identify persons of interest [1], to airports trying to monitor who enters and leaves the country, to Facebook suggesting who to tag in a photo, and even to unlock your own phone or laptop.


“The facial recognition market is worth approximately US$3 billion [in 2017] and is expected to grow to $6 billion by 2021. The FBI has a database with images of approximately half the U.S. population” [2]

There is no doubt that facial recognition system is a big step forward for technology. A few might even argue that it is also a big step forward for safety matters as it might help find criminals as well as missing people, shoplifters, etcetera. However, what does this mean to our privacy?

Let’s start with FindFace, a Russian app based on face recognition which lets you find a person on their social media through only a photograph [3]. This might sound like a sophisticated way to connect with your friends but imagine being on the subway or in a club, someone approaches to flirt with you, you reject them, they take a picture and a few minutes later you find yourself having a new stalker.

Apps like FindFace represent a real threat to our privacy and might lead to online harassment or even real-world stalking. What comes next? An app which allows a person to track their significant other by having access to CCTV footage? Have we crossed the privacy line with public access to face recognition?


Technology advances provide powerful tools and face recognition is not the exception. While this system is especially useful for immigration and law enforcement we must be aware of the privacy and ethical issues that this new capability raises –specially on the wrong hands- so that we can create and pass new laws to restrict the public usage in order to guarantee that the steps taken forward in terms of safety do not backfire into stalking or even an aiding tool for criminals to track the police or to kidnap someone, turning the world into an unsafer world instead.



[1]. Find Biometrics. (2016). Facial Recognition. Global Identity Management. Retrieved July 17th from: https://findbiometrics.com/solutions/facial-recognition/

[2]. Gabel J. (2017). Facial recognition is increasingly common, but how does it work? The Conversation. Retrieved July 16th from: http://theconversation.com/facial-recognition-is-increasingly-common-but-how-does-it-work-61354

[3]. Kumar M. (2016). This app lets you find anyone’s social profile just by taking their photo. The Hacker News. Retrieved July 18th from: https://thehackernews.com/2016/05/findface-face-recognition.html

[4]. Teicher J. (2018). What do facial recognition technologies mean for our privacy? The New York Times. Retrieved July 17th from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/lens/what-do-facial-recognition-technologies-mean-for-our-privacy.html

[5]. Rogers R. (2018, July 13). California Department of Technology. Stanford University. Leading Trends in IT.


3 comments on “Facial recognition: leading to a safer or unsafer world?”

  1. Nice piece.
    Facial recognition really has its merits and drawbacks. It all depends on how you are using it. For example, it maybe great to use facial recognition for finding missing person citywide. It may also be useful to enforce the law on traffic offenders. However, the real question is, to what extent should be use use this technology? In a city of China, they use facial recognition to track everyone’s behaviour and give them a score. They get a point for doing good and a point off for violations. This maybe useful as deterrence to violations, but it may have huge political implications. For instance, the one in control of the system may abuse it for their own political goals i.e. a big brother is watching you world. Even if facial recognition is used in a home, privacy issues might arise as well. With facial recognition, every member of the house is tracked by the computer. The computer knows when you went out, it knows who you came back with. Thus, it all comes to how we think about privacy and security, and how we balance them.

  2. As you’ve mentioned, facial recognition can be used in a number of ways. One historically common application of the technology is crime prevention and detection; this has been used in both Europe and the United States. Such use of the technology has revolutionary implications for both nations and individuals. When facial recognition is applied and used in a beneficial way, there seems to be no downside. In recent years, however, it has become widespread in the social media realm.

    Despite its beneficial implications, facial recognition also has the more than likely potential to infringe upon individual property rights. As you discussed in your post, it can be integrated into mobile apps among many other applications. As the technology becomes more refined and ubiquitous, it’s not easy to predict the effects it will have on individual privacy and society at large. The concept will undoubtedly continue to raise many new and interesting legal issues as it becomes the new standard and every day life.

  3. Great post, Lorena!As with most technologies, there are both drawbacks and benefits to facial recognition. Like Felix mentioned in his comment, it really depends on how the technology is used.
    I think one of the scariest parts of facial recognition is that it may be hard to regulate. The government and law enforcement may be able to use it to curb crime, but I am sure that once that kind of technology is developed, it can fall into the wrong hands and be used for sketchy intentions such as the ones you mentioned in your post. In addition, such technology can be used to monitor and “stalk” people without their knowledge, which makes it even scarier.
    This goes back to the discussion on the tradeoff between safety and privacy. Are we willing to give up some (or maybe even a lot) of our privacy in exchange for more effective ways of preventing crime and capturing criminals?
    In the future, as technologies become more advanced, there will definitely need to be more discussions on privacy and ethics!


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