Why Facial Recognition Applications Matter to Your Business

By: Alan Seal on February 27, 2020

Biometric authentication systems have already found their way into a variety of business applications, but the emergence of facial recognition applications could unleash a tidal wave of new potential uses. While there are significant ethical and privacy concerns surrounding the technology, there’s no question that facial recognition applications could fundamentally transform the way consumers interact with the products and services businesses provide.

How Facial Recognition Applications Work

Fundamentally, facial recognition technology is a form of biometric identification that maps facial features from a photograph or video footage and then compares them to a database to locate a probable match. The process analyzes the unique geometry of a subject’s face, such as the distance between the eyes or the alignment of the cheekbones. This analysis produces a unique facial signature that can then be cross-referenced with a catalog of existing faces.

Like any machine learning program, the quality and accuracy of matches improve as more data is gathered. And many organizations that utilize the technology have access to massive databases of facial recognition data. According to the ACLU, for example, the FBI database contains over 640 million photos. China, which has rapidly positioned itself as a global leader in facial recognition techniques, has a national database of more than one billion faces.

5 Facial Recognition Uses for Business

As with most new technological innovations, forward-thinking companies are already devising a variety of ways to put it to use. While some of the early efforts at implementing facial recognition technology have been uneven (as anyone mistakenly tagged in a Facebook photo can attest), these applications continue to hold tremendous potential. Here are just a few of the potential use cases:

1. Fraud Detection

Concerns over identity theft remain high for many consumers. According to a recent survey by F-Secure, 45 percent of people spread across nine countries are worried about the threat of identity theft and associated cybercrimes. Considering that 62 percent of those respondents had been impacted by cybercrime in some way, those fears are hardly misplaced. As a form of multifactor authentication, facial recognition applications offer an attractive, simple alternative to other forms of identity confirmation. Rather than needing to remember multiple passwords, a simple facial scan can confirm that someone trying to access a service or purchase a product is who they say they are. The latest facial recognition programs also utilize powerful machine learning techniques to distinguish between an actual human face and an image of one being held up to a camera.

2. Enhanced Accessibility for the Visually Impaired

While facial recognition technology delivers an improved user experience for the average consumer, it can provide much greater benefits to people with visual impairments. One heartwarming example of this potential was unveiled back in 2015 by Listerine. The mouthwash maker rolled out a mobile app that used facial recognition to send signals to blind users to let them know when someone was smiling at them. Facebook has also invested heavily in developing applications that help the visually impaired overcome the difficulties presented by various forms of social interaction.

3. Medication Adherence

One of the biggest challenges facing the healthcare industry is medication adherence, or rather non-adherence. Up to 50 percent of patients in the US do not take medications as they’re prescribed, and this non-adherence is responsible for between 33 and 69 percent of all medication-related hospital admissions at a cost of over $500 billion each year. Thanks to facial recognition technology, healthcare providers can use applications that are not only capable of visually confirming a patient’s identity and their prescribed medication, but also whether they take that medication as directed.

4. Improved Retail Experience

Traditional brick and mortar retailers have been looking for a way to compete with online stores for some time now, but facial recognition applications might have the potential to give them an edge in terms of providing an unmatched customer experience. Software could be used to link a customer’s face to their online profile to break down boundaries between the shopping experience. The retail giant Wal-Mart is experimenting with facial recognition technology to measure customer satisfaction, which will allow the company to better optimize their stores and services. While Amazon’s innovative Amazon GO convenience stores don’t utilize facial recognition software, the concept of delivering a completely automated shopping experience where people can simply walk in, grab what they need, and walk out without having to wait in line could be streamlined even further with facial recognition applications.

5. Streamlined Travel

Frequent travel can often be a complicated and annoying process. Even when all the arrangements are made in advance, travelers are still subjected to repeated security checks in airports and go through complicated administrative processes to handle tasks like renting a car or checking-in at a hotel. With facial recognition technology, however, those obstacles could become a thing of the past. Imagine walking through an airport and boarding a plane, then attending a trade show conference and checking into your hotel room at night without having to talk to administrative personnel or produce any documentation. For business travelers who spend a lot of time on the road and in the air, facial recognition software could make their experience far more efficient and convenient.

Problems With Facial Recognition

No discussion of facial recognition business applications would be complete without mentioning the privacy concerns associated with the technology. To begin with, there are very few regulations stipulating what organizations collecting facial recognition data can and cannot do with it. Given the growing concern about data privacy in both the US and Europe, legal challenges to facial recognition applications could make companies hesitant to deploy it extensively in the coming years. The Chinese government’s extensive use of facial recognition cameras as part of its complicated “social credit” system represents a worst-case scenario for many privacy advocates.

The technology has also demonstrated a troubling track record of racial bias. Although the top-performing algorithms are 25 times better at correctly matching a person to a face in a large database than they were in 2010, they are still ten times more likely to falsely identify a black woman’s face (1 error in 1,000 attempts) compared to a white woman’s (1 error in 10,000 attempts). If law enforcement agencies plan to continue utilizing the technology, this tendency for false positives could have profound social and political consequences.

Another challenge facing this innovative technology is the amount of data storage required to accommodate it. Camera images and video footage are essential components of any facial recognition platform. All of that high-resolution data needs to be stored somewhere. That’s why new storage technology and data centers will be essential to the long-term growth potential of facial recognition applications.

The Future of Facial Recognition Business Applications

While there are many justifiable concerns about facial recognition applications, there’s no question that the technology is here to stay. As the regulatory landscape takes shape in the coming years, organizations will continue to identify new use cases that comply with legal guidelines while also providing consumers and employees with greatly improved user experiences. The technology will also make it easier for companies to gather and manage data while streamlining operations for optimal efficiency.

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