Businesses Test Facial Recognition Software To Learn About Customers

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – Whether it is at the tolls or an ATM, your picture gets taken a lot these days and you don’t even realize it.

New applications for facial recognition are taking this trend to a new level, and that is raising concerns about privacy.

Your ID might not be the only thing a bar checks. A growing number of night spots are using this type of facial recognition software. Rafe Needleman of cnet.com said, “It’s helpful to businesses who want to know who their customers are.”

WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports

Some malls are also testing this technology. “They will recognize your age or your gender so if you walk up to a display wall at a retail establishment or mall or something like that and you’re a mid-40s guy, maybe they’ll give you an ad for a BMW,” explained Needleman.

It could be just a matter of time before stores start using technology that not only recognizes your habits, but also tracks your spending.

“So when you walk in a store, it might know who you are just when you walk in and give you deals based on your past purchases,” added Needleman.

This trend raises privacy concerns with the Federal Trade Commission. Spokesman Mark Eichorn cited a recent study at Carnegie Mellon University. “They took photos from a dating site where people were anonymous, or using pseudonyms, and they also got information from a social networking site where they had in general people’s real names. Using facial recognition technology, they were able to identify a lot of those users who were anonymous on the dating site.”

Some uses sound innocent and are a tool for businesses to expand. Needleman said, “What’s being used right now are apps that will look at a business, say a bar, and see how many men versus women there are, or their ages, so you can see what the scene is like.”

But Needleman worries the technology could be taken too far. “It’s not out of the question that ten years from now we’ll walk down the street and people will be wearing camouflage so they’re not picked up by facial recognition trackers all over the place.”

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