Pixabay/Tag Hartman-Simkins
False Match

Americans Support Facial Recognition Tech — When It Works

The problem is it quite often doesn't.

Face Time

Americans aren’t as concerned about facial recognition tech as they once were.

That’s the takeaway from a newly released survey conducted by the Center for Data Innovation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research institute.

“People are often suspicious of new technologies, but in this case, they seem to have warmed up to facial recognition technology quite quickly,” the center’s director, Daniel Castro, told Nextgov.

But just because Americans are less wary of facial recognition tech doesn’t mean regulators should be.

Survey Says

Between December 13 and 16, 3,151 adult internet users in the U.S. shared their feelings on facial recognition tech with the Center via a Google Surveys poll.

This poll asked each participant to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with 10 statements, such as “The government should strictly limit the use of facial recognition technology even if it comes at the expense of public safety” and “Police departments should be allowed to use facial recognition technology to help find suspects if the software is correct 90 [percent] of the time.”

Only 26.2 percent of participants in the Center’s facial recognition survey supported strict regulations on the technology, with that number dropping to 18.3 percent if the regulations came at the expense of public safety.

Shifting Attitude

When the public policy group Brookings Institution conducted its own facial recognition survey in September, 35 percent of the 2,000 participants thought the government should regulate facial recognition “very much.”

Castro has one possible explanation for why Americans are getting over any initial wariness of facial recognition tech so quickly: their phones.

“[T]hese results are likely explained by the fact that consumers are increasingly familiar with facial recognition technology, such as using it to unlock their phones, so they understand its convenience,” he told FedScoop. “When they understand a technology, they are usually willing to embrace it if they come out ahead.”

Accuracy Not Included

According to the Center’s facial recognition survey, Americans are also apparently more willing to embrace the tech if it actually works the way it’s supposed to.

The percentage of participants who “agreed strongly” that police departments should be allowed to use facial recognition technology to help find suspects dropped significantly each time the hypothetical accuracy of the technology dropped — 41.1 percent strongly agreed with the tech’s use if it was 100 percent accurate, 23.4 percent if 90 percent accurate, and 17.7 percent if 80 percent accurate.

And that’s the problem with the current use of facial recognition technology — in general, it’s not terribly accurate. It’s also biased, with mistakes disproportionately involving people who aren’t white and aren’t men.

So, while lawmakers should consider the average citizen’s opinion when deciding how they should regulate facial recognition tech, they shouldn’t discount the opinion of the many experts all saying the same thing: we must regulate this technology.

READ MORE: Survey: Americans Warming to Use of Facial Recognition Tech [Nextgov]

More on facial recognition: Microsoft President Calls for Government Rules for Facial Recognition Technology

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