Losing control of our faces

How much has the rise of deep learning fueled a loss of privacy?

It is undeniable that facial recognition has significantly changed our lives.For better or worse, there are many benefits that it can offer to society: from preventing crimes and increasing safety and security to reducing unnecessary human interaction and labor. In some instances, it can even help support medical efforts. On the flipside, as with any technological advancements, there are potential drawbacks to using facial recognition in our everyday lives.

In an article published by MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao points out that the facial recognition enterprise has deeply eroded our privacy. According to her, “[facial recognition] hasn’t just fueled an increasingly powerful tool of surveillance. The latest generation of deep-learning-based facial recognition has completely disrupted our norms of consent.” 

There have been several accounts of researchers that gradually abandoned asking for people’s requests when using facial recognition systems and “this has led more and more people’s personal photos to be incorporated into systems of surveillance without their knowledge.” More importantly, sometimes researchers may accidentally include photos of minors, use photos of low quality, or mislabel people with racist or sexist labels. This has led to “a growing number of cases in which facial-recognition systems have failed with troubling consequences, such as the false arrests of two black men in the Detroit area last year.” 

As facial recognition systems become more widespread, a lot of concerns and boundaries are being circumvented; quoting Deborah Raji: “Now we don’t care anymore. All of that has been abandoned,” she says. “You just can’t keep track of a million faces. After a certain point, you can’t even pretend that you have control.”

Looking into the current state of deep-learning-based facial recognition systems, one can only remain sceptical and concerned about its future. Deborah Raji highlights once again that face recognition forces researchers to violate people’s privacy while hoarding information that the individual either does not control, or has no idea about how it will be used in the future. 

Do the pros outweigh the cons? Has it become time we reclaim our faces? 

The upcoming IMPAKT exhibition Face Value: investigates surveillance and identity in the age of digital face recognition: How does the continuous screening, capturing and digitisation of our faces, voices and emotions impact how we value them? What are the socio-political consequences of using algorithms that reduce your face to a digital barcode, and that make assumptions about your identity based on how you look?
Face Value will be on view at the IMPAKT Centre from 18 September to 10 October.
The exhibition is a collaboration between the Utrecht University, IMPAKT, and the Dutch Film Festival. The exhibition has been curated by Rosa Wevers and includes works by: Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Effi & Amir, Josèfa Ntjam, Martine Stig and Ningli Zhu. 
Read more about Face Value here.

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