It’s always an exciting time for
me when Apple has a new announcement. I am an Apple fan and even though I
can’t afford all of their products, I admire how they set the standards
for the evolution of personal technology (particularly mobile). Most recently,
the Apple iPhone X was unveiled as having the potential to unlock with facial
recognition (calling it “Face ID”). Simply by having the
iPhone’s camera scan your face, your phone could unlock.
When I heard about the “facial
recognition” feature, it caught my interest. First, this just seems like
the natural next-step after unlocking with a thumbprint (Touch ID) right? Also,
my information-minded brain started spinning without thoughts about privacy,
accuracy and potential user problems that facial recognition could involve. I
also started wondering: why??? What was wrong with the passcode and the
thumbprint? Well, critics complained that the last iPhone didn’t have
enough of a
, and others complained
the home screen required at least 2 touches to unlock. This new model covers
both of those things. Plus, the users seem to want (and expect) technology to
advance with each new iPhone release (that’s a joke, even though there may
be some truth to it).
Apple isn’t the
first company to include facial recognition in their mobile devices. Android
phones (since the Lollipop) are already equipped with facial recognition (called
Trusted Face) but have drawn criticism for being able to be hacked with a
picture or by a person with similar features (or not working when the user makes
a change to their face, such as shaving or growing a beard). Despite the
security concerns, some people like the ability to use this feature instead of
slower methods, like typing in a passcode
if you own an Android).
Apple’s Face ID comes from a company
called RealFace. There was a lot of buzz in February when
Times of Israel
reported that Apple had purchased
RealFace (an Israeli facial recognition software company). RealFace is a startup
that was known for its “frictionless face recognition” and creating
authentication solutions that did not include passwords. Think about
that—a world without passwords!
there will be security issues (hacking a phone with a photo), privacy issues
(trusting Apple with our faces and other data that includes location and
communications), and usability issues (during the live demo to unveil the iPhone
X, facial recognition didn’t work on the first phone. Also, what happens
if you gain or lose weight, or shave a beard? If your face changes will you be
able to get into your phone? Must you take a new photo?). These are not new
issues and scholars have been writing about facial recognition and mobile for a
long time (for example, see Ijiri, 2006; Choi, et. al., 2011; Vasquez-Fernandez
& Gonzales-Jimenez, 2016). Facial
Recognition and Libraries
recognition entering the mainstream, we should think about how (and if) it could
be applied in libraries. Libraries actually use a lot of ID based systems:
cards, logins, RFIDs to name a few (all which have their pros and cons for
library patron privacy). There are not too many libraries using facial
recognition right now (see below for an example of one who is), but I did come
written by Lambert in 2016. This article
was written after Android’s Trusted Face feature became available, but
before Apple purchased RealFace. Lambert speculated that in the near future, a
patron could simply walk through the scanners and prompts would tell him/her
that there is an overdue book, a reserved item has become available, or
basically anything that the library wanted to alert their patrons about.
Librarians would just use customized, machine-generated, automatic messages that
could help keep patrons informed. Though, like a true librarian, Lambert’s
article went on to describe the legal and ethical implications of adding our
faces to the big data pool and what that really means for our privacy (see
Own’s Your Face
” by Robinson Meyer).
These are conversations that society in general needs to consider as biometric
databases (face recognition is biometric technology) develop.
There is at least one library who has trialed
the use of facial recognition technology. The Toowoomba Regional Council library
in Queensland, Australia actually did a one month pilot using facial recognition
technology to analyze the faces of their patrons as a means to improve services.
Usually this practice is reserved for surveillance cameras and security
purposes, but the library trialed facial recognition as a means of tracking
usage. The pilot drew attention from the public--some library patrons expressed
concerns about having their faces recorded and placed in a database. The local
news broadcast a story on the library’s use of facial recognition
technology framed on the privacy concerns of citizens. You can listen to the
podcast here: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2016/s4632732.htm
Since facial recognition is really just
beginning to be something usable and enter the mainstream, all we can do is
speculate as to whether it will take off or fade away. Will libraries adopt it?
Or will the software we use in libraries start integrating it? As librarians are
getting involved more in big data, might they be called upon to be part of the
team’s organizing the new collection of digital faces?