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Facial Recognition is for More Than Your Photos

This article was written by in Privacy and Security. 1 comment.

Most of the time when you hear the term “facial recognition,” it’s used by people trying to attract you to a new digital camera, or software, or a plugin for Facebook.

On an individual level, it’s little more than a way to help your camera focus, or group and search your photos. But if you’re using it on a larger group level, you can make it do all sorts of nifty, and possibly dangerous, things.

Deterring Crime

For example, in Indiana recently, a convicted forger was caught trying to establish a sixth fake identity by a facial recognition system used by the motor vehicle department.

Airports are trying to use it to catch suspicious people when they appear in huge crowds. It shouldn’t shock you if I say that airports detain many people every week for doing nothing wrong. I’m a little worried that this would lead to even more false alarms.

YouTube has got a way to detect celebrity faces in their videos, which can help them, among other things, find videos that are breaking copyright law. There’s no reason, however, that it can’t also learn your face, and find you in other videos it has indexed.


Some Windows-only laptops are using it to bypass the need for a startup password. I’m eagerly looking forward to the day when it might replace all my passwords, but there are a few kinks to work out first: most importantly, the Internet is not particularly secure, and I wouldn’t want just anybody to be able to activate my computer’s camera and look around. It’d have to be more of a system where, say, the bank’s Web site asks the local machine, “are you sure it’s really him?” and my computer replies Yes or No.

But if we could get that to work, I’d be a much happier man. I sit down, I’m logged in. I walk away, I’m logged out. Instantaneous, foolproof (?) security.

Toshiba is also working on creating fewer needs for drivers to take their hands off the wheel. One line from this article is kind of ridiculous, though:

Toshiba has found a way to make changing the radio station in your car as easy as blinking your eye.

That had better not be the trigger for changing the music. We, as a people, do a lot of blinking.

Beyond the Face

Microsoft is wanting to combine face recognition with voice recognition and movement tracking (and maybe more) with their new Project Natal. I am so far a big fan of the XBox experience, even if Windows drives me batty, so I have high hopes for this. I can’t help but think that background noises, like a dog barking, will cause a significant amount of trouble.


My American dream relies heavily on the notion of being able to go through an entire work week without anything in my pockets, or hanging off my belt. If facial recognition can be proven to be more than, say, 99% effective, sign me up.

But it also depends on a lot of trust in the authorities we place in power. I’ve seen corrupt behavior. You probably have, too. Do you imagine these technologies will help or hurt?

Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published June 16, 2009.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

This is crazy and will be a great thing to protect against crime. It is also used in other more annoying ways. Back in college local police used Facebook to find violators who ran onto the football field. Not necessary in my opinion.

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