facial recognition softwareIf you’ve used Facebook to share photos with your social circle in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed changes in the way your friends are “tagged”— recognized by name within your pictures on the social media site. Before, you would click a face on the photo and type in a name. Now, Facebook does most of the legwork for you, using a form of technology known as facial recognition software. What was science fiction material at the start of the century is now used by millions on a daily basis, from users tagging pictures on social media to police officers identifying criminals via images pulled from video feeds.

Behind the scenes, information technology (IT) professionals — software developers, systems analysts, computer and information system specialists and more — are rapidly developing software and computer systems to fine-tune facial recognition tools and make it beneficial for individuals and businesses alike.

What It’s Doing Now

So how does it work? There are three steps between a computer seeing a face and making an identification:1

  • Detection. A computer program takes data from photos or video, like surveillance footage of a crowd in a mall, and identifies faces from within them. It reorients or resizes the photo as needed to provide the best angle for identification.
  • Faceprint creation. With an individual face is identified, the software analyzes it for defining characteristics like the location and size of eyes, eyebrows and nose. Better lighting and close proximity to the camera make for a better faceprint, while darkness, sunglasses and facial hair can obscure it.
  • Verification/identification. The computer can then compare an individual faceprint to a single photo, for example, to give an employee access to a company’s sensitive or classified areas. Or, it can be compared to many images, such as when police compare a crime suspect’s photo to a database of known offenders.

Here are some of the ways developers are integrating facial recognition software into everyday life:

  • In addition to Facebook’s photo tagging system, newer smartphone cameras group pictures by the faces within them. Snapchat filters let users experiment with silly animal ears and warped visuals, while other companies have developed applications to virtually try on everything from makeup to eyeglasses.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that facial recognition software developed by a former Carnegie Mellon University student is being used to disrupt sex trafficking on the internet, allowing police to use a photo of a missing child to determine whether the victim has been advertised online for sex.2 And police in Great Britain are using camera-equipped vans to check citizens against watch lists to locate wanted criminals.3
  • JetBlue Airlines is experimenting with using facial recognition in place of boarding passes — taking a photo of a traveler just prior to boarding, then sending it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for approval in a process that takes only a few seconds. 4

The Future of Facial Recognition Software?

Like many technologies involving personal information, security and privacy concerns have followed implementation. NPR reported that while using facial recognition software for airport security is in testing and now voluntary, U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to use the system in the near future to track non-U.S. citizens as they leave the country.4 The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement opposing this use, citing too many false positives and negatives to make it an effective tool, also raising the possibility of unwanted surveillance and tracking.5 But facial recognition software is still being praised for streamlining security access protocols and its potential for fighting crime.

The Minds Behind it All

How do developers behind cutting-edge tools like facial recognition software balance its convenience and innocuous uses with the need to keep all kinds of personal information stored in computer systems accurate, secure and private?

If you’re considering answering those questions in your own IT career, contact Grantham University today. The Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) degree program is designed to be completed in as few as 24 months with 37 credit hours — giving you the education you need to be competitive in the field while addressing the ethical, social, legal and security concerns that arise in our fast-paced digital age. Classes begin weekly, so take the first step now!

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