Going to a pro sports event? You just got added to a facial recognition database

Since 9/11, we have become more and more comfortable with having to navigate enhanced security procedures throughout our everyday lives. The difference between airports before and after may be the most dramatic, but metal detectors, checkpoints and security cameras are literally everywhere now. But what about the security measures that you don’t know about? 

All attendees at New York’s fabled Madison Square Garden are now subject to facial recognition as part of the arena’s security measures. Unfortunately, MSG is offering no information about how this system works. Reporting has only been able to confirm that a facial recognition system is in use.

Critics have concerns about privacy, as facial recognition has been compared to having to “show papers” just to move through public spaces. The technology is still in its infancy and there is increasing data that results are sometimes unreliable, especially with regard to non-white faces. The ideal, which itself is a bit scary, is that there is some reliable record of all your movement, no matter where you go. Even for those who don’t go anywhere interesting, this is still highly creepy. Once someone knows your face, they can now identify you. 

Marketers are at the leading edge of facial recognition, estimating age and gender in order to micro target people in public the way microtargeting is done online. The hoped-for result is an individualized marketing strategy that has a much higher rate of success for each targeted person. The problem is that it doesn’t work as well if people know you are doing it. For that reason, much of facial recognition tech has an air of “unobtrusiveness” (i.e. secrecy) to it. This inherently means that people are not consenting.

The other inherent aspect of facial recognition is the record it creates. It may seem axiomatic, but the technology requires a record of the face scanned. Attempts to anonymize the image are problematic because data can always be un-anonymized. The fact that there is a record of who was where and when is of vital importance to law enforcement. Since the industry and tech are so new, there is almost no regulation addressing what private marketing and security companies can do with your data after they take it without asking. 

The potential of facial recognition is immense and more than a little frightening. It’s important to know that it’s already out there, in use. And somewhere your face might be in some unknown person or government’s database.