Welcome to the second phase of The Road To Biometrics UnPlugged: a summer-long event here at FindBiometrics in preparation for the Biometrics UnPlugged conference in September. Now in its second iteration, this year Biometrics UnPlugged carries with it the subtitle “Mobility at the Crossroads of Commerce & Privacy.” Last month was dedicated to the commerce aspect of that equation so it’s only fitting that August be given to exploring the ideas of privacy in biometrics.
When we talk about privacy in biometrics there is a key distinction that needs to be made, and that is between the concept of authentication and identification. Biometrics aren’t only about security and convenience, even though they offer new and exciting possibilities in that regard. There are applications in identity that require discussion, legislation and collaboration in managing best ethical standards and practices.
Certain modalities of biometric technology can be used to identify members of a population without their knowledge. Commercially, this has forward-thinking applications in marketing and customer experience, while on a governmental level there are uses for this in matters of national security.
Generally, facial recognition is on the receiving end of the news in this regard because it is the easiest to comprehend and most publicly visible. Public fear of facial recognition comes down to the idea of being surveyed. If a webcam on a digital ad can measure a person’s demographic information to best tailor an ad, the worry is that anonymity will be a thing of the past.
When mobility enters the equation , it’s not just corporations and governments that need to have a standard to adhere to, the everyday user will soon have access to similarly powerful biometric identification technology.
Earlier this year, the makers of a Google Glass app that leverages facial recognition for a wide number of useful applications came under fire by none other than US senator Al Franken, who after seeing the commercial biometric software in action, became concerned about privacy implications.
Senator Franken is not wrong: the flagship app from The FacialNetwork allows Google Glass wearers to do real-time web searches based on facial biometric data without the subject’s knowledge. In a world where any trustworthy person has a picture of their face on a social network, it is terrifying to think of the privacy implications. Sure, on one hand you’ll never have to worry about forgetting a person’s name, but strangers will be able to know yours without asking too.
Above are real concerns that need to be addressed in the area of privacy and biometrics. Unfortunately, a general misunderstanding of how biometric authentication works has given much of the public the wrong idea of where they should be directing their pro-privacy energies. Earlier this year, the state of Florida banned the collection of student biometrics after an issue of permissions not being granted before an attendance solution was implemented on a school bus.
The initial issue, that the permission of a guardian was not obtained before the biometrics were enrolled, is of legitimate concern, but the fallout was wholly irrational. The fear that sprouted from the idea of biometric authentication was that having a fingerprint or iris system in place would enable the compromise of personal data. In the end, the decision to nix all student biometrics in the state came down to a base misunderstanding of how the technology works, namely, biometric templates.
The fact that this fiasco happened in an education scenario is ironic. Education on how biometrics work in authentication versus how they work in identification scenarios may have saved Florida schools from having to revert to pen and paper attendance systems.
Communication and Trust
After reading the above, things may seem bleak. Privacy issues at hand in the biometrics industry are real, but in many cases the public doesn’t know enough on the subject to differentiate between what’s a real concern and what’s not.
Here’s why there is hope: The biometrics industry is at a perfect point to open communication lines with the public and establish a relationship of trust. The entire idea of strong authentication and global identity management is based on building trust and, now that biometric technology is entering the mainstream market, it’s time to start fostering those relationships.
Join us throughout August as we dive further into the topic of biometrics and privacy. Have something to add? Follow us on Twitter and use the hashtag #Road2BUP. Haven’t registered for Biometric UnPlugged? Don’t worry, registration is still open at https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1558281.