NEW YORK — Retailers and advertisers want to scan your face to identify you, track you, and market stuff to you — all without your consent.
That’s why a group of privacy advocates stopped negotiating with industry trade groups on Tuesday. They had spent the past 16 months working together to draft facial recognition guidelines at the request of the Obama administration.
But advocacy groups, including the ACLU, said they no longer believe the talks will result in privacy rules that adequately protect consumers – and their faces.
“At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement — and identifying them by name — using facial recognition technology,” the privacy groups said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise.”
Your face is the key to unlocking everything you keep private. On social media sites — particularly Facebook — your friends, interests, location and past purchases can be linked to your photo. That a gold mine for advertisers.
Until recently, however, there was no way to link your online treasure trove of data with your offline persona. Walk into a store, and retailers had no idea who you are or how to market stuff to you.
That has changed in the past couple years as facial recognition technology has become more robust. Now, your face has become the link between your offline and online presences.
Some facial recognition companies like RedPepper are putting facial recognition technology in stores and restaurants, offering you deals when you walk in.
That service requires a customer’s permission first, but other companies don’t. Intel’s digital signage technology allows companies to tailor ads to you based on your age and gender, for example.
FaceFirst provides retailers with the ability to perform facial recognition on customers in real time, spotting potential shoplifters or good customers.
The technology has far outpaced regulation, however: There are no clear rules or laws regulating the use of facial recognition technology. The Obama administration had wanted to put voluntary guidelines in place by getting privacy advocates and industry players together, but that process now appears doomed.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunication and Information Administration had been overseeing the talks. The NTIA said it will continue to hold the meetings despite the withdrawal of the privacy groups, and industry groups said they plan to proceed on their own.
“The absence of some stakeholders from NTIA’s process won’t stop us from trying to create a workable code of conduct for facial recognition privacy,” said Carl Szabo, policy counsel for e-commerce trade group NetChoice.
Szabo said his group plans on completing a list of rules about proper transparency, notice, data security, and giving consumers meaningful control over who has access to their facial recognition data.
Yet those protections weren’t enough for the privacy groups, who argue that people should be able to choose whether or not they want to be subjected to facial recognition in the first place.
The retailers and digital advertisers fought back on any rules that would require customers to proactively give permission before facial recognition services were used, the privacy groups said.
Meanwhile, consumers are left with few options to avoid the use of facial recognition technology. You can change your password, your credit card number and even your name. But you can’t change your face.