Facial Recognition as Entertainment: The Royal Wedding

The countdown to the Royal Wedding has begun and aside from the festivities, the event is putting the focus on something that people don’t usually associate with weddings. It looks like Sky News is planning on taking out the middleman, aka the presenter, and using Amazon’s AI-based facial recognition software to tell you who’s who at the wedding.

Amazon Rekognition will then tell you who the celebrities mingling about are, such as Meghan Markle’s Suits friends, or the various athletes Prince Harry and his bride are friends with, as well as the many members of the royal family. Therefore, the AI will tell you just about who everyone is at the wedding, which will likely be a lot more efficient than having a reporter do that.

On the other hand, this situation brings the same privacy concerns that any technology involving facial recognition does. According to Amazon’s page on Rekognition, this software will be able to “identify a person in a photo or video using your private repository of face images.” In other words, Sky News will have a database full of people who are expected to attend the wedding, and the AI will flag them out when it notices them. Plus, it is already trained to recognize celebrities, making things easier.

That same page, however, mentions that the system is “always learning”. It’s impossible for Sky News’ cameras not to stumble upon “commoners”. For all intents and purposes, this is an AI-based surveillance system with a cosmetic use. What happens with that footage? The system scans every face to find those that match with the pictures in the database, so everyone else’s images will just be used to train the AI further.

The problem is that Sky News doesn’t seem concerned with the privacy issue at all, and neither is Amazon beyond handing off the technology for hire. As a society, do we weight the pros and cons properly?

Take Facebook’s approach, for instance. In the new user agreement, they’re asking you to specifically allow them to use facial recognition technology on your pictures. In order to make their case, they tell you just how useful that technology is for you and how many cool features you’re going to miss out on if you say “no”. No word about the downside.

This same technology is used by spy agencies across the world in connection with CCTV camera footage, as the CIA revealed. It’s also used in airports and government buildings for security purposes. But how long before facial recognition deployed over surveillance cameras on the streets are even more widely used? Is that something we want?

Perhaps the royal wedding isn’t the right time to discuss this, perhaps it’s just the perfect one.

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