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Will convenience outweigh privacy concerns when it comes to using facial recognition technology in public?

Facial recognition technology is convenient. Many of us use it numerous times a day to unlock our smartphones.

Although people often access their phones with Face ID or fingerprints, many still worry about their privacy when their biometric data are used in the public space. There is a fine line between consensual identity verification and non-consensual surveillance. Here are some examples.

More airports are now using facial recognition

Delta Airlines opened the nation’s first biometric terminal at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (ATL) in November 2018. Travelers can now use their biometric ID (facial image in this case) for check-in, dropping off luggage, and going through TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at ATL. Travelers using biometric ID can enjoy a faster service at ATL as the following:

·      Store their passport information in their frequent flier profile.
·      Check in to the flight at a kiosk and opt in to use facial recognition in the airport.
·      The picture taken in the kiosk will be compared to the image in the database at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
·      Drop off the luggage by looking at the camera.
·      Look at the screen with a valid boarding pass at TSA.
·      Look at the screen when boarding on the airplane.

After adopting facial recognition technology, Delta Airlines can save nine (9) minutes on the ground for the boarding process. Moreover, facial recognition technology can help detect targeted criminals and terrorists at the airports.

Currently, the facial recognition technology runs at about 98 percent success rate. The remaining two percent, as well as the travelers who are not comfortable with the technology, may still use their passport at the airport, the traditional way of ID verification. 

According to CBP, the facial images of U.S. citizens scanned at the airports will be deleted shortly after confirmation. The facial images of non-U.S. citizens arriving in the States will be stored for 75 years in the database, but their photos taken at departure will be deleted after 14 days.

JFK in New York City, YVR in Vancouver, Haneda and Narita Airports in Tokyo, among other examples, have also adopted or will adopt facial recognition technology.

Shopping malls want to use facial recognition too

Retail stores and shopping malls also want to provide a different kind of experience for customers with facial recognition technology, including

·      Recognize shoppers’ names when they enter the place.
·      Record what they buy.
·      Send them promotions.
·      Detect shoppers’ paths of travel in the property.
·      Determine traffic patterns.
·      Monitor worker performance.
·      Watch shoppers’ reactions to displays.

Privacy concerns arise about using facial recognition technology in public space. Human rights groups are voicing their concerns about using surveillance cameras to monitor people’s daily activities. In some extreme cases in China, for instance, people’s emotions are also analyzed.         

Restaurants try facial recognition to improve customer service

Outback Steakhouse rolled out a pilot program last month in selected stores, in which cameras are stored in the lobby area, capturing the interactions among the hosts, servers, and customers. The technology enables the restaurants to

·      Track long wait times.
·      Monitor the cleanliness of the lobby.
·      Record the number of customers who leave without being seated or greeted.
·      Notify the managers or staff before customers get angry.

According to the CNBC report, the data captured by the cameras will be stored for 30 days, and no personal identification information is tracked and recorded. Outback plans to expand the program to the dining rooms, kitchens, and curbside pickup areas as well.

The trade-off between convenience/efficiency and privacy

If consumers’ biometric data is not tracked or at least stored in a secure place, consumers may feel more inclined to accept facial recognition because of convenience and efficiency. It is quite different, however, when consumers are being watched through surveillance cameras and analyzed as objects.

While I urge legislators to regulate the usage of any technology that utilizes consumers’ biometric data, I would like to hear your thoughts about technology.

In what cases, or to what extent, do you allow a business or agency to collect your biometric data? Or, on the contrary, on what occasions do you want to say no to such practice?

Note: This post is also shared on; The picture was downloaded from


  1. The case of facial recognition and the data business will have without direct consent from the customers is a harrowing idea. However, the majority of customers nowadays has become desensitized to the idea of giving up their personal information for the sake of quicker, efficient convenience. The 9 minutes average saved by removing passport checks and other processes may seem insignificant, but it is 9 minutes less of being confined in a tight line of people and less stress in general. Giving away facial data seems insignificant to other important information such as Social security numbers, driver’s license, and debit cards, especially when it won’t affect the customers directly.

  2. As technological advancements allows facial recognition to rapidly improve, the accuracy used in mobile phones to recognize its users in under a second has been commercially integrated into other companies, the question of ethics, specifically privacy is introduced to the conversation. I believe the concerns of privacy can be remedied if these companies asked for consent from their consumers, via something as simple as signing a waver or agreement to use their services. While these companies state to have good intentions regarding their usage of their consumer's facial recognition data, more transparency in regards to the specific usage and confirmed deletion would allow more people to feel at easy. Until the public is desensitized to the concept of well-established and universally used facial recognition systems, the concern of privacy will overpower the potential advancements in service.
    - Eric Le
    HRT 3500 (Section 03)

  3. Technological advancements continue to impress me. As a consumer, I would not like my biometric information to be stored in a database for the purpose of shopping mall activities without my consent. I raise this question, how will companies ask for permission? Through emails or kiosks at the entrance by the doors? Thousands of guests walk into shopping malls a day. If I have to read a disclosure before I walk into the mall and sign it, they are taking my time away. When they watch my “walking patterns” throughout the mall, I see no purpose to have that stored. The POS system of a retail shop collects customer information and I think that it is sufficient enough for them to know what sells and what does not work. There is a need of transparency for this too work. If it cuts my time shorter and used to my benefit, then yes, I wouldn't mind my facial data to be used like at the airport.

    Elizabeth Quiroz
    HRT 3500.03


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