We know that Facebook has a vast facial recognition database so good that it can recognize you when your face is hidden, that the FBI has built a millions-strong criminal facial recognition system, and that Google's new Photos app is so effective at face recognition that it can identify now-adults in photos from their childhood. But now facial recognition is starting to pop up in weird and unexpected places: at music festivals (to identify criminals); at stadiums (to weed out "sports troublemakers") and at churches. Yes, churches.
Moshe Greenshpan, the CEO of Israel- and Las Vegas-based facial recognition software company Face-Six, says there are 30 churches around the world using his Churchix technology. He launched the service just four months ago and says churches are already using it to scan congregants' earthly visages to keep track of attendance at events in order to know who wasn't there so they can check up on them, or who attends most frequently so they can ask those people for donations. He declined to name any of the churches using the technology citing the controversy around facial recognition. I asked him if any of the churches are based in Texas or Illinois, the only two U.S. states that have laws on the books about getting permission to collect peoples' faceprints. "I prefer not to say," said Greenshpan.
(If a facial expression-detecting camera were trained on my own face, it would read "skeptical." Without being able to talk to one of the churches using this technology, it's impossible to verify Greenshpan's claims.)
"There are no federal laws that specifically govern the use of facial recognition technology," wrote Ben Sobel in a Washington Post editorial that discussed the only two states with relevant laws on the books. In lieu of a law, the Department of Commerce has been trying to establish facial recognition industry standards in a "privacy multistakeholder process." For more than a year, industrial representatives and privacy advocates have been taking part in negotiations to come up with standards for how facial recognition should be deployed by businesses in the U.S. Last week, those negotiations broke down. Privacy groups involved in the process, including the ACLU and EFF, withdrew, saying in a letter that companies refused to agree to core principles of privacy.
Or nobody will, because Very Important People may not like having random strangers identifying them and buttonholing them at Starbucks first thing in the morning.