Don’t Show Your Face: FTC Warns of Advertisers’ Use of Recognition Tech

Photographer: Ozgur Donmaz

Advertisers are poised to plunge deeper into face-based marketing, which raises a host of security and privacy issues, the FTC said.

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the whole face could be a path to your pocketbook, if advertisers have their way.

The Federal Trade Commission said on Monday that advertisers are using facial recognition technology to tailor sales pitches to us in previously impossible ways.

So what’s the agency’s concern?

This practice is typically done without our consent, the FTC said, and advertisers are poised to plunge deeper into face-based marketing with methods that raise a host of security and privacy issues.

Marketers are already using digital ad displays in malls, bars, casinos and other venues that scan viewers’ faces and change  the ads being shown based on their age and sex. But such lightweight facial-detection will eventually give way to full-blown facial recognition, the FTC said. This would allow marketers to use head shots they’ve taken in public places and match them to profiles on social networks and Internet histories of the viewers for super-specific targeted ads.

In its wide-ranging privacy report, the FTC said:

“The ability of facial recognition technology to identify consumers based solely on a photograph, create linkages between the offline and online world, and compile highly detailed dossiers of information, makes it especially important for companies using this technology to implement privacy by design concepts and robust choice and transparency policies.”

A large part of the concern is that it’s now possible to learn vast amounts of information about somebody merely by having their photo and some Internet skills.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers showed last year that they were able to use photos taken from a dating website and from a webcam on a college campus to identify people, compile detailed reports on their interests, and in some cases guess part of their Social Security numbers.

Google, Facebook and other companies that sell Internet advertising already have a heavy interest in facial-recognition technology, which has raised privacy concerns.

The FTC wrote that marketers that deploy facial-recognition technologies need to adopt “reasonable” security measures, such as limiting the amount of time a person’s file is retained. For advertisements in physical settings, the agency said data should be immediately deleted after the viewer walks away.



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