A new survey into Americans' feelings about facial recognition tech found that most are ready to put it into the hands of law enforcement agencies — but it also revealed that the average person's understanding of the capabilities and shortcomings of the tech remains weak.
A nationally representative Pew Research Center survey of 4,272 American adults found that 56 percent trust law enforcement agencies to use the tech responsibly, while 59 percent said they'd be in support of its use to monitor public spaces for security threats.
Americans were far less supportive of the use of facial recognition by the tech and advertising industries, however.
Just 36 percent said they trusted tech companies to use it responsibly, with a scant 5 percent telling Pew they had a "great deal of trust" in the companies. Even fewer respondents expressed trust in advertisers, with just 18 percent saying they trusted ad companies to use the tech responsibly and only 2 percent placing a "great deal of trust" in the companies.
One of the most illuminating sections of the survey explores Americans' belief in the accuracy of today's facial recognition technology.
Seventy-three percent of respondents told Pew they believed it's "somewhat" or "very" effective at accurately identifying individuals. Sixty-three percent gave the same response when asked if they thought the tech could accurately identify an individual's gender, while 61 percent thought the same thing about its ability to determine a person's race.
Those figures stand in stark contrast to the numerous studies noting the technology's many shortcomings, particularly when tasked with identifying non-men and non-whites.
This discrepancy might be explained by yet another section of the survey, one focused on what respondents actually know — or think they know — about facial recognition tech. While a vast majority of respondents — 86 percent — told Pew they'd at least heard something about the tech prior to participating in the survey, just 25 percent claimed to have heard a lot about it.
Perhaps the most troubling takeaway, then, is that while most Americans trust law enforcement to use facial recognition technology responsibly, they might not actually know enough about the tech to realize what that use could mean for so many of their fellow citizens.
READ MORE: More Than Half of U.S. Adults Trust Law Enforcement to Use Facial Recognition Responsibly [Pew Research Center]
More on facial recognition: Amazon’s Facial Recognition Struggles With Darker Skin