GAO Stares Back At Facial Recognition

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently conducted a study into the use of commercial facial recognition technology.

The findings examine the uses of facial recognition technology in a commercial setting, but not by government agencies. The study also looks into privacy issues that have been raised, proposed best practices and industry privacy policies, and potentially applicable privacy protections under federal law.

Ironically, the GAO admits no federal privacy law regulates commercial uses of facial recognition technology, and laws do not fully address key privacy issues stakeholders have raised, such as the circumstances under which companies use the technology to identify individuals or track their whereabouts.

Facial recognition technology, one of several biometric technologies, measures and analyzes physiological or behavioral characteristics. Using the camera on a device such as a laptop or a smartphone, marketers glean insights into intent. The data helps to determine the correct advertisements to serve.



Facial recognition could initiate a series of messages, but in the United States the technology mainly detects characteristics, such as age or gender, to tailor relevant digital advertising and messages, rather than identifying unique individuals.

Privacy advocacy organizations, government agencies, and others have have raised concerns that information collected or associated with facial recognition technology could be used, shared, or sold in ways that consumers do not understand, anticipate, or consent to.

"Gaps exist in the consumer privacy framework, and the privacy issues that have been raised by facial recognition technology serve as yet another example of the need to adapt federal privacy law to reflect new technologies," according to the report.

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