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Author: Brendan Kavaney |08/30/19

AI and Facial Recognition: The Ethical Dilemmas Facing the Future of Physical Security

Possibilities Podcast Episode: 11

“Starting tomorrow, you can throw your badge away, because you won’t need it to access the building anymore.”

Sounds like a dream come true, right? How many times have you gotten to the front door of the building, only to realize that you left your badge in your car? Or worse, at home?

Then you’ve got to go through the hassle of getting someone to sponsor you for a temporary badge, or just go home and get it, which depending on where you live, may just mean working from home for the day.

So to be able to ditch the badge entirely? Who wouldn’t want that?

But are you asking the right questions? What are the hidden costs behind such a venture? Alethea O'Dell, Chief Marketing Officer at Northland Controls was a guest on the Possibilities Podcast recently, and had some great things to say about the new wave of security innovations, what you might be giving up, and the limitations behind such a process.

The Frictionless Experience

Wouldn’t it be great to show up at work, and just walk into the building? No badges, no thumbprints, no codes. None of that.

Facial recognition is at the top of our minds, because employees really want that frictionless experience. Alethea O’Dell

Just a simple walk past the front desk, with a brief pause for some facial recognition scans, and then you're through the door and on your way.

It’s happening in some airports across the world. Passengers aren’t even having to get out passports. Their images are scanned and compared against a database in milliseconds.

Such a process has to be next for huge companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, or Nike, right? Massive companies with tens of thousands of people coming through the doors every day.

But according to Alethea, you’ve got to keep the audience in mind at all times. What impact are you having on the client? In this case, the employee giving up a badge in favor of facial recognition software.

What I worry about the most is the impact of the client? Is it serving them? Or is it serving our need to sell more?

Convenience, but at What Cost?

We all want a more convenient life. We don't want to remember passwords, so we log them in a password manager. We don't want to carry keys, so we buy smart locks for our homes. We don't want to get off the couch, so we have a thermostat that we can turn down from our phones.

Convenience is king.

But how often do we actually stop to count the cost of what we’re getting? If someone is selling you a convenience, it’s likely coming at the expense of SOME form of privacy.

Think about when Facebook first came on the scene. How many people were uploading photos by the hundreds to share with their friends? Finally, a way to stay in touch with people thousands of miles away.

But now, a quick google search will turn up images of nearly anybody, and that can only be attributed to facial recognition software by companies like Facebook and Instagram.

People today will choose convenience at the drop of a hat, never considering what is ACTUALLY happening to those facial scans taken of them when they walk into the office. Or what’s ACTUALLY being done with their passwords online.

We’re not yet to the point where we can effectively have convenience AND privacy. It’s usually a give and take. You give up one to get the other.

The Ethical Concerns of Convenience

Beyond the privacy concerns of facial recognition software, there are some serious ethical concerns as well. Some studies show conflicting information about whether facial recognition software can read faces of all races correctly. If we can’t even be sure that we’re getting accurate results from these services, why would we be in a rush to implement them in our workplaces?

Are we giving up a disproportionate amount of our privacy, all in the name of convenience?

This post is based on a Possibilities podcast with Alethea O'Dell. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe here.

To listen to this episode, click here

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