back to article Americans are just fine with facial recognition technology – as long as they get shorter queues

Surprise, surprise, most Americans believe the US government shouldn't limit the use of facial recognition technology, particularly if it's convenient for them or used for their protection. The Center for Data Innovation, a non-profit think tank focused on technology and policy, conducted an online poll asking people if Uncle …

  1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Something Ben Franklin Said

    I believe Ole Ben said something that those who want security and freedom end up with neither. I do not the various feral TLAs and their various cousins with anything but the bare minimum of information and that grudgingly given their long history of unethical and sometimes criminal behavior.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Something Ben Franklin Said

      No, what Franklin said was "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

      I concur. Widespread use of facial recognition technology will only end in tears. We should ban it now, before it is too late. (I'm a Yank, male, 60ish.)

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Something Ben Franklin Said

        +1

        It is amazing how many Americans are ignorant of their own history. They seem doomed to repeat it, as Santayana predicted.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Something Ben Franklin Said

        J.J. Blodgett: Franklin? Oh, oh yes, Ben Franklin... Well, good man for his time. Of course, today, I'm not sure he could pass the security check

        From one of my favourite films.

      3. TheMeerkat

        Re: Something Ben Franklin Said

        But aren’t you limiting Liberty by banning use of technology?

      4. I&I

        Re: Something Ben Franklin Said

        Ban-Policing: “Facial Recognition Recognition”.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Something Ben Franklin Said

      But the next question becomes, "What if the sacrifice of freedom is the ONLY way to attain ANY security?" Take Franklin's supposed quote into consideration, and you end up with NEITHER freedom NOR security actually being possible, especially over the long term, simply as part of the human condition.

  2. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Big Brother

    I think the real problem is...

    That the younger generations mostly tend to choose convenience over privacy...

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Re: I think the real problem is...

      "the younger generations mostly tend to choose convenience over privacy"

      But the survey results show that the OLDER generations choose convenience over privacy more than teh younger ones!

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: I think the real problem is...

        But the survey results show that the OLDER generations choose convenience over privacy more than teh younger ones!

        I'm not sure (anti)social media bears out your hypothesis. Yes, that one survey does, but I think much of Gen X & the boomers are happy without the world knowing they exist, whereas most millennials want to be famours for.... well, anything, anything at all. Just so long as someone somewhere is watching.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: I think the real problem is...

          Could that be because most of the dubiously famous people are young (which is not unusual, young people tend to be more photogenic), so those are the ones you notice, and possibly you're generalising all the other young people who are as private as they can be?

          (ie selection bias)

      2. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: I think the real problem is...

        Not in a particularly significant manner. I mean I'm sure the results are "significant" in a purely statistical sense, but in a socially meaningful sense a 20-30% difference (or even a flat out inversion of ratios) is what I'd call significant, not a 5% one.

      3. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Re: I think the real problem is...

        This particular survey is horrid. Just look at the questions and notice the ambiguity and stress of the fear factor.

        I can see a lot of people not really having a problem using facial rec to unlock their mobile especially if they just bought one just for that feature. To stop shoplifting? That sounds like a good application. At airports? For public safety? Oh hell yes, that's all good stuff!

        Notice it doesn't ask, "what if it screws up N% of the time?" or "what if it wrongly identifies you?" or "would you support strict limits if facial rec. wrongly identified and caused X people per day to be detained for Y minutes/hours?" and "what if one of those wrongly identified and detained caused a delay to your flight?"

        My guess is that if they pointed out the negatives it would quickly swing the other way as the fear factor would shift to 'I could be one of the N%'. I'd also guess that they would say they accept a much larger percentage of mistakes, N, than they realize since the actual number of X they would accept would likely wind up as 0.01% if not much less.

        1. Just An Engineer

          Re: I think the real problem is...

          You beat me to it.

          Notice it doesn't ask, "what if it screws up N% of the time?" or "what if it wrongly identifies you?" or "would you support strict limits if facial rec. wrongly identified and caused X people per day to be detained for Y minutes/hours?" and "what if one of those wrongly identified and detained caused a delay to your flight?"

          They did not ask as they know the results, if it becomes personal, then no one would want it around. if it caused them to miss a flight to see the grand kids they would be right pissed.

          I have always had a healthy skepticism of the accuracy of "online" polls. Since most of us just ignore them and only those with nothing better to do will fill them out. But I am SURE it must be reflected in the margin of error.

          1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

            Re: I think the real problem is...

            Ah, I notice the linked article does mention accuracy albeit in a fuzzy way:

            Support for using the technology that way increases depending on its accuracy: If the software is right 80 percent of the time, then 39 percent agree with using it and 32 percent disagree. If the software is right 90 percent of the time, then 47 percent of respondents agree with using it and 25 percent disagree. And if the software is right 100 percent of the time, then 59 percent agree with using it, while 16 percent disagree.
            The problem is saying the software is correct 80% of the time is such a weasel worded thing. Say it another way, one in five innocent people will be tagged by the software incorrectly and potentially shot by the police while one in five criminals will get a pass. Would they still get 39% to agree supporting it?

            Astonishingly it only gets 59% support even when it's perfect.

      4. uccsoundman

        Re: I think the real problem is...

        I might be able to explain the older folks tolerance for this. I've heard it at the coffee fellowship at my (mostly elderly) Church. If you aren't doing anything wrong, or are not someplace that you aren't supposed to be, or not associating with "undesirable" people, you have nothing to worry about and therefore should not object to the cameras.

        But remember, this is the generation who grew up with McCarthy and heartily APPROVED of what he was doing. They have a healthy dose of 1950's conformity. They always assumed their phone conversations were listened to, their mail inspected, their friends scrutinized. That was the price of freedom (from those Communists, Socialist and other undesirable liberals).

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: I think the real problem is...

          In other words, "Nothing to hide, Nothing to fear," AND they figured Big Brother was already watching them, so that angle's covered, too.

          1. uccsoundman

            Re: I think the real problem is...

            As a boy I was astonished how normalized this was. Of course you didn't subscribe to "Playboy", because, even though it came in a plain brown wrapper, your postman would immediately report you to the police. Say a curse word on the phone? The operator would immediately disconnect the call and you might lose your phone service. Find out your new friend has read Marx? Get rid of him; dad will lose his job! And what is so scary is... there was basis for their fears. We DID know people who said @#$# on the phone and lost their phone service. We DID know people who were jailed for subscribing to "Playboy" (Federal offense to get naughty magazines in the mail). And people having their lives ruined by associating with communists was on TV every night when my dad was a boy (see McCarthyism).

            So yes, Cameras in the air... no problem; just another reason to not engage in any "Un-American Activities"

  3. sorry, what?
    Alert

    I wonder if many Americans read Science Fiction?

    I found, growing up in a family who were avid SF readers, that my mind was opened to many different possible scenarios set in fictional universes but obviously applicable to reality. That reading made me consider the downsides of technologies and other social changes. And that's why I see pervasive and unfettered use of facial recognition quite disturbing.

    These sorts of studies are executed in a vacuum of knowledge; they don't try to influence, but clearly they don't inform either (well, it isn't their job, is it?). I wonder if the same results would be observed if an equal number of serious benefits and major issues/disadvantages were listed before hand?

    It sounds (from this reporting) like the skewing in favour of its use seen in the "refined questioning" added only beneficial usages as the scenarios. Obviously, having not seen the detail, I could well be wrong in this assumption. However, if right, that to me makes the study biased and ultimately unhelpful.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder if many Americans read?

      ... or non-Americans read for that matter. But I do not wonder any more when Americans and non-Americans alike prefer instant gratification over doom (bah, PROJECT FEAR...) later. After all, that's what drives world economy, buy now, pay later. OK, it might drive us towards an uebercliff but hey, ain't we havin' a smooth drive?!

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: I wonder if many Americans read?

        For many, they're too worried about today to worry about tomorrow. After all, you'll never reach the latter if you don't survive the former first.

        1. AK565

          Re: I wonder if many Americans read?

          Agreed. I've taken a 2-week gig with an average workday of 11 hours plus a 3 hour round trip commute so I'll have the funds to pay next month's bills. Im lucky in that I can charge what the market will bear.

          Many people are overwhelmed just making ends meet. They dont have the discretionary time/energy to worry about the security of their personal data, even if they know they should.

          Im not saying this is the largest piece of the puzzle, but i dont think it gets the attention it warrants.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: What about auto-updates?

    Interpreting the outcome of a poll like this assumes the people asked were informed of the pros and cons.

    It does not look like it, given how Trump is highlighing how badly things can go if there are missing checks and balances in the system.

    Which means the only outcome this poll confirms is that people are not informed, and older people worse so, but not by much.

    In a post truth era, I think we can safely say if it is for security or safety, then it is anything but.

    Next - use facial recognition to identify democrat voters in swing states and have them all in specific voting booths. Link to facebook account and push special ads. Was House of Cards Season 7, but instead coming soon to real life..

  5. jmch Silver badge

    Tech ignorance

    The questions tap into the 'magical thinking' that many people have a bout technology.

    How exactly is facial recognition going to reduce shoplifting? 'Recognition' means that you have to match the picture caught on your camera to a database somewhere. If Walmart et al are to have a database of known criminals, that has to come from law enforcement, who really should not be sharing that data at all.

    How exactly is facial recognition going to reduce queues at the airport? There already are automated biometric systems, and the bottleneck in the system is the passenger themselves providing their passport. It won't speed up anything to compare a photo of him/her to tehir passport picture vs comparing a fingersprint scan to that stored on the passport.

    All of that putting aside the fact that the technology itself is actually pretty crap at recognising anyone of interest as demonstrated so 'ably' by the London plod.

    1. Joe Harrison Silver badge

      Re: Tech ignorance

      How exactly is facial recognition going to reduce shoplifting?

      Leaving aside organised shoplifting gangs I would have thought that it was a casual and localised sort of crime. An attempted shoplifting in town A is probably by someone living in same town, or at least from town B next door. Walmart don't need access to law enforcement's sekrit database they just need to be alerted to the entry of the same guy who tried to rob them the previous week.

      1. paulll

        Re: Tech ignorance

        "Walmart don't need access to law enforcement's sekrit database they just need to be alerted to the entry of the same guy who tried to rob them the previous week."

        Don't the States have Data Protection/Foipp-type laws? ie, hanging a picture of mouthwash guy in the staff room would be ok; Entering information about him onto a computer system without his consent, not so much.

        So it would have to be a live query against a law-enforcement-owned system, the idea of which is scary as balls, even by American standards.

      2. TheMeerkat

        Re: Tech ignorance

        So they need their own face recognition system then?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: the bottleneck in the system is the passenger themselves providing their passport

      ah, but then there's this new technology when you have this teeny-tiny chip embedded under the skin... Oh, how wonderful, and all those lines at the airport - GONE. Like lamb to the slaughter. When do I sign to be part of this revolutionary technology? Give them 5 years to introduce, another 15 to make it mandatory.

    3. Jimmy2Cows
      Pint

      Re: Tech ignorance

      Bang on, I had the exact same "Ok... how...?" question. Thank you for raising this, and raise one of these :) -->

    4. AK565

      Re: Tech ignorance and magical thinking

      IMO, a disturbingly large amount of people apply magical thinking to more than just technology.

      More disturbing is how few people ask how or why when a piece of tech gets labelled good or bad.

    5. I&I

      Re: Tech ignorance

      Shoplifter-recognition (specialised), including (in)ability to see face at all, outfit, gait, browsing patterns, gestures (including parting ones as they rapidly get smaller with distance).

      1. I&I

        Re: Tech ignorance

        ...or FR system sees shop shrinking (rapidly, with distance)

  6. ratfox Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I'm a fatalist. I believe you cannot restrict the use of technology.

    Practically the only technology whose use has been curtailed effectively is nukes; and even then it feels like a constant struggle.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A survey asking Americas if you should tell someone they can't do something.

    I don't think with those questions I would have expected a different answer.

  8. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    actually, we say "lines", not "queues"

    Find an American who says "queues", and you probably have found a programmer.

    I wonder how well the poll does reflect sentiment. Yet here is an American urge to believe in the newest, shiniest thing, and I wish I knew how to cure it. As for Dulles, the last couple of times I've flown in, nobody has suggested that the face scanning is optional. And the face-scanning does not let one skip an eyeballing by a real live agent.

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: actually, we say "lines", not "queues"

      It's about time you learnt to speak the Queen's English then.

  9. Drew Scriver

    Once it's implemented hardly anyone will object

    Proof: how many travelers exercise their right to bypass the "naked scanners" at airport 'security' checkpoints?

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: Once it's implemented hardly anyone will object

      Uh yeah, or it could be proof that travelers don't prefer an extended groping in order to bypass the scanners.

  10. Someone Else Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Lies, Damn Lies, and ...

    The Center for Data Innovation, a non-profit think tank focused on technology and policy, conducted an online poll asking people if Uncle Sam should regulate facial recognition. [emphasis added]

    Now there's something you can really take to the bank, yessiree! Highly factual, unbiased, sy-en-tiffik and of course, highly repeatable.

    Not!

    I'm not one to scream about "fake news" but I must say this is about as close to it as I recall ever seeing on El Reg. Bad Editor! Bad! Bad!! No coffee!!

  11. I&I

    Beyond face recognition...

    (Initially meant the heavy interpretation

    ...but to “end on a lighter note”, envision numerous deodorant ads “following” an unwashed through a shopping mall)

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