Menu
ABA Banking Journal Home
Menu

Facial recognition: The new frontier

They’re not only looking at you, they know you

Facial recognition: The new frontier

It’s time to really go out on a limb and speculate about a new and perhaps controversial technology that at least has the potential to be applied in the banking industry: facial recognition through remote devices.

It sounds like fiction, and, for sure, it is very common in today’s popular television shows. Programs like CBS’s “Person of Interest” and all of the CSI dramas regularly feature high-spy facial recognition techniques that pick the bad guys out of crowds via lamp-post mounted cameras.

The thing is, that’s not far from reality. Just last month it was reported that the Department of Homeland Security is testing a system called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS, no less), with help from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It takes stereoscopic images obtained through pairs of cameras and sends them back to a remote matching system and compares them with images in a database.

According to a DHS document, BOSS is capable of identifying images of an individual at 50-100 meters away. Since 2008, DHS and PNNL have been testing the system at the Toyota Center sports complex in Kennewick, Wash.

According to news reports, the system was last tested in September at a Western Hockey League game. Supposedly, 20 individuals signed up to have their images placed in the database. The challenge was to see if BOSS could pick them out of the crowd of 6,000. No word on whether this actually occurred or what the results may have been, but, given the DHS’s own document, it’s certainly possible to have happened.

Okay, so what? What’s this have to do with banking? Not much, yet, except that in July there came word that the Finnish company Uniqul patented and tested a new payment system that depends entirely upon facial recognition. You pump gas, for example, then look into a camera. The system recognizes you, accesses your credit card account, and charges you, all hands- and plastic-free.

That system is still slowly getting up and running. The pricing scheme, based on geographical distances, as well as the number of enabled terminals, has posed some hurdles, but not the technology itself. Once those get worked out, it’s not too hard to guess that it at least has as much chance as fingerprint identification has with the new iPhone version.

One could also imagine other uses applicable for banks with facial recognition. Video surveillance comes to mind. There doesn’t seem to be any record of any financial institution using this yet, but Disneyland does.

Last summer there was a spate of outraged blogs and commentators decrying the use of facial recognition at Disneyland resorts. Essentially, one patron visited Disneyland, went on a ride, and had his picture taken at some moment during the ride. After he got off, the theme park offered to sell him a copy of the picture—and included his credit card information already linked to it. The thing is, he’d never agreed to have his picture taken in the first place. The combination of his image and his account had to have been made possible at least in part through facial recognition.

No real accusations of bad conduct were filed, and presumably that case was worked out, but the point here is that it is possible.

The literature has other examples. In fact, one company, Identix Inc., is a leader in all sorts of biometric identification technologies including facial recognition and has worked with governments, law enforcement, corporate enterprise, and, it says, the financial industry. It provides an illuminating case history on its website about how it is working with the casino industry in Japan, providing facial recognition aids so that casino operators can provide “excellent customer service through personalization” of gambler loyalty programs.

Again, how far a leap would that be for financial institutions, which now are all about customer centricity, personalization, and, of course, customer relationship management? Talk about a 360-degree view of the customer.

This is all theoretical at this point. Still, it’s sobering to know that the Federal Trade Commission late last year issued best practices for companies that use facial recognition technologies.

In its staff report, the agency says facial recognition technologies “have a number of potential uses, such as determining an individual’s age range and gender in order to deliver targeted advertising; assessing viewers’ emotions to see if they are engaged in a video game or a movie; or matching faces and identifying anonymous individuals in images.”

Even they recognize that the potential uses are all over the charts. Acknowledging that the commercial use of such technologies is still “young,” FTC emphasizes that as the industry grows, it should do so “in a way that respects the privacy interests of consumers while preserving the beneficial uses the technology has to offer.”

Specific best practices, so far, are:

  • Design the services with consumer privacy in mind.
  • Develop reasonable security protections for the information collected, and sound methods for determining when to keep information and when to dispose of it.
  • Consider the sensitivity of information when developing facial recognition products and services—for example, digital signs using facial recognition technologies should not be set up in places where children congregate.
  • Take steps to make sure consumers are aware of facial recognition technologies when they come in contact with them, and that they have a choice as to whether data about them is collected.

All well and good. Here’s looking at you.

Sources use for this article include:

Homeland Security to test BOSS facial recognition at junior hockey game

Privacy Impact Assessment Update for the Standoff Technology Integration and Demonstration Program: Biometric Optical Surveillance System Tests

FTC Recommends Best Practices for Companies That Use Facial Recognition Technologies

The new totalitarianism of surveillance technology

Finnish Company Develops Facial Recognition Payment System

Identix Inc.

John Ginovsky

John Ginovsky is a contributing editor of ABA Banking Journal and editor of the publication’s TechTopics e-newsletter. For more than two decades he’s written about the commercial banking industry, specializing in its technological side and how it relates to the actual business of banking. In addition to his weekly blogs—"Making Sense of It All"—he contributes fresh, original stories to each TechTopics issue based on personal interviews or exclusive contributed pieces. He previously was senior editor for Community Banker magazine (which merged into ABA Banking Journal) and was managing editor and staff reporter for ABA’s Bankers News. Email him at jginovsky@sbpub.com.

back to top

Sections

About Us

Connect With Us

Resources