Why we are fearful of facial recognition technology

Why we are fearful of facial recognition technology

Although many people are up in arms about a recent New York Times piece where journalists went out and identified random pedestrians as they walked past in the street using commercially available facial recognition software, the use of facial recognition software in the public eye raises more questions than answers.

Why are people up in arms about it now? Facial recognition isn’t fundamentally new. It’s widely accepted across Western society that there are surveillance cameras everywhere and anywhere you could possibly think of. People are also okay with police officers scanning hours of surveillance camera footage to track a suspect’s location.

It’s not clear what makes people uneasy about facial recognition software. Psychology Today have suggested that there are three main emotional components to the problem which explain why people aren’t fans of it. It comes down to a lack of privacy, anonymity and uneasiness at being followed.

The concept of being “followed around”

People are complex. For many, the idea that their whereabouts could be tracked by an unknown third party, even if it’s a machine, is enough to make them feel uneasy.

It’s likened to seeing a police officer on the street and then having them follow your every move. It’s not the issue of having your location known, it’s being followed.

People liken being followed to being stalked, and stalking takes a heavy emotional toll.

People enjoy being anonymous

There’s a reason actors now go to extensive lengths to not be recognised once they’re at the height of their fame. They miss being anonymous in a large crowd of people.

Anonymity permits a certain kind of freedom, whether it be from nosy neighbours, judgement or adoring fans.

The use of facial recognition removes the anonymity that comes with being hidden.

Being watched alters your behaviour

The sense of being watched ensures that the person being watched is on their best behaviour. 

For many, being stared at is worse than being eavesdropped on. People are more sensitive to visual invasions of privacy instead of audio ones, which would explain the discomfort that people feel.