FindBiometrics president Peter O’Neill recently had the chance to speak with Joe Rosenkantz, CEO of FaceFirst. The facial recognition company had an excellent 2015, and with the year coming to a close, O’Neill got the CEO’s perspective on what has been driving this success. The conversation spans a range of topics: biometrics in law enforcement and retail; the opportunities presented for facial recognition in marketing applications; and the current state of privacy concerns when it comes to the modality.
Peter O’Neill, President, FindBiometrics: Has this been a good year for FaceFirst?
Joe Rosenkantz, CEO, FaceFirst: Absolutely. So far, 2015 has been a tremendous year for FaceFirst. We continue to grow our main verticals of retail, transportation, law enforcement and public security/ public safety. And we continue to hone and develop our products to better meet the needs of those markets.
FB: Based on our past conversations, I know that your business is very global in nature. Where you are seeing the most activity?
FaceFirst: We continue to do significant business in Latin America, and we have recently expanded into prisons in Brazil and transportation systems in Colombia, but we are now seeing significant growth in the US in both the retail and public safety sectors.
FB: Mobility is increasingly having a greater influence in law enforcement and some of the other verticals that you are focused on. How does this affect your business?
FaceFirst: Well we certainly believe that mobile is the key to the value proposition of a surveillance based recognition system. We were granted our US patent this year which is specifically on the subject matter of notification and alerting electronically for a biometric event. In most cases our customers’ interaction with the system is limited to receiving some type of automated notification on a mobile device. Their ability to react immediately, is where they achieve a positive return on the investment. Mobile email or SMS notification tends to be the most common method for user notifications, where mobile smartphones as an input device using the FaceFirst mobile applications, is more common for law enforcement use.
FB: Right, and I believe it is becoming more common on the law enforcement side now that the cameras are so good in most mobile devices. Is that correct?
FaceFirst: Yes. At this point we have more than 70 agencies with close to 500 users using FaceFirst mobile applications on Android and IOS. What we see now with the commoditization of high-end cameras on the smartphones, is that we are able to identify people from as far away as 12 feet using a mobile camera with FaceFirst.
FB: Wow! That is very impressive. It is just amazing how that part of the industry has changed. When we last spoke you had mentioned the growing retail sector and you mentioned it again just a little while ago. What’s really driving that marketplace?
FaceFirst: I think that proving return on investment from existing customer base has enabled us to understand how to prove the financial model for our customers now so that they can understand what type of investment needs to be made up front and how quickly they can expect to achieve an ROI with the system. And now that we have so many reference customers, that word is getting out.
FB: Can you describe how that ROI is achieved?
FaceFirst: Yes. So, generally for x number of shoplifters entered into a FaceFirst system, a large percentage of them show up back at the brand who entered them into the system, typically within 30 days. We have statistics that show that a high number of those people continue to come back into that store indefinitely and each time that they come back into the store that is armed with a FaceFirst system, they end up being approached after a few seconds by somebody, and subsequently asked to leave. So we are actually preventing the next crime.
FB: That would be a very desirable outcome for most retailers I would think.
FaceFirst: Yes, we’ve got the ROI down to a point where I think most CFO’s would have no problem signing off on it.
FB: On the retail side, there seems to be another growing segment: marketing apps using facial recognition in order to deliver messages to potential customers. Is your company involved in this area?
FaceFirst: We are seeing growing interest on the marketing side. Our latest software release now includes demographic analysis and people counting so we can now offer value on the marketing side of the business. Our customers can understand trends in the demographic makeup of people that are entering the stores. For instance: after placing an ad for a certain product, you may have increase in female traffic that comes in and turns to the right subsequent to running a particular ad campaign. That kind of information is definitely valuable although we have yet to see mass adoption on the marketing side.
FB: You mentioned privacy. We have spoken about this topic in the past. What is the current view?
FaceFirst: Well, we continue to believe that there is a mature set of legislature and standards already in place with regards to camera surveillance of a commercial environment. Essentially, it says that businesses can place a camera anywhere on their property as long as it is anywhere that a person can otherwise be and observe someone.
We believe that facial recognition is providing valuable intelligence about people that you might want to take a second look at, but we feel that it is vitally important that the system includes built-in privacy measures and controls which allow the customer to choose whether they want to systematically eliminate biometric templates for people that they are not specifically tracking on a watch list. These safeguards are at the heart of the FaceFirst platform and we feel that these features have enabled us to overcome privacy concerns and integrate systems on enterprise scales for our customers.
FB: When you look down the road, how will facial recognition be used in five years’ time?
FaceFirst: Well, I’m going to start with where it is being used today. Today it is being used in loss prevention, in asset protection, theft prevention and demographic analysis. It is also being used for access control and general watch list identification. What we see evolving now are analytics of people and traffic, demographics, and post event forensic analysis. Geofencing is also going to be very common in the future. The ability to understand where somebody is and alerting on their location is important. Whether it is alerting that somebody has stepped out of bounds of a secure facility or alerting that somebody has stepped into a particular area where we can market to them because they have arrived at a mall for instance. We believe that is a future growth area.
FB: From the law enforcement side, the ability of being able to review and summarize mountains of information by running it through your system would be a tremendous asset.
FaceFirst: Yes, we have that capability for historical video analytics now, and we call it Forensic Video Identification. It allows ingestion of massive amounts of historical video into the system and provides automatic indexing of all found people in the videos.
FB: What can we expect to see next from FaceFirst?
FaceFirst: Our latest product release allows the system to run without a watch list. So we have the ability to gather faces of anybody that has been seen on any camera, in near real-time, and allows you to search after the fact. It really opens the market for companies to build databases on the fly with infinite search capabilities back in time.
FB: What about the commercial consumer side? Will I have facial recognition to open my front door or car, is that coming?
FaceFirst: The small-scale consumer applications are already a reality, but adoption has been slow.
FB: Congratulations on another successful year. It is always interesting to hear what your company is accomplishing. Great strides. We look forward to hearing more in the future.
FaceFirst: Thank you Peter, always great to speak with you.