Facial Recognition In Smart Cities: Should You Worry About Your Privacy?


The size of the global facial recognition market is estimated to jump from $3.8 billion in 2020 to $8.5 billion in 2025. Smart cities are among the first ones to implement this technology in an effort to make our everyday lives easier and improve the overall functioning of the community. 

However, as the saying goes – there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 

Since smart cities tend to be fueled by data, they use various data collecting methods to gather intelligence from citizens, buildings, and devices.

These vast amounts of data are analyzed and used to enhance transportation systems, waste management, water supply, and public community services like hospitals and schools. 

But are the benefits that come with this technology worth the risks? Keep reading to see where facial recognition is most commonly used and what are the potential privacy issues. 

The Use Of Facial Recognition In Smart Cities

1. Better Shopping Experience

The use of smart technology is common in retail, aiming at giving customers a better and safer shopping experience. According to ExpressVPN, apart from facial recognition, Bluetooth beacons and ultrasonic tracking are common in-store technologies used to monitor customer movements. 

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Regarding facial recognition, stores use cameras to monitor movement and detect crimes like theft and assault that would otherwise stay unnoticed. However, catching criminals isn’t the only way retail environments use facial recognition.

Contactless payment options experienced significant growth in recent years, but the pandemic dramatically increased the need for more hygienic technological solutions.

Those brands who would manage to adapt to this new consumer demand are likely to continue to grow to be the norm.

Considering that an increasing number of financial transactions are nowadays carried out via computer or mobile, some shops started embracing facial recognition technology in verifying customers’ identities.

Using facial recognition to authorize payments isn’t only more convenient; it’s also one of the safest options since our biometric features are unique and consequently less prone to hacking. This technology is still in its infancy, but the future’s looking bright. 

2. Stopping Crimes

Security camera feeds can be a valuable asset in the fight against criminals. According to GAO’s report, 18 of the 24 federal agencies who participated in the survey say they use facial recognition technology, and most of them have more than one system at their disposal.

This way, security cameras can detect a perpetrator and automatically run the image through databases of convicted criminals to see if there are any matches. Since facial recognition technology can work even in poor lighting conditions and angles, it can track kidnapping victims by detecting their location in real time. 

3. Protecting Public Events

Most security systems nowadays have to rely on human operators. Unfortunately, human judgment isn’t the best solution for detecting suspicious individuals, and our vision isn’t adjusted to track threats in a crowd.

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Considering that public events tend to be a frequent target of mass shootings and terrorist attacks, implementing a system that would automatically detect potential threats could make a significant difference. 

For instance, Dubai law enforcement started using security cameras with facial recognition technology during preparations for Expo 2020.

Their goal was to identify criminals and even send out verbal warnings to people if they were caught doing something illegal. According to their statistics, it has reduced the law enforcement response time from 6.46 minutes to less than 3 minutes. 

Privacy And Security Concerns

1. Security Breaches

Biometric features are thought to be one of the most secure ways to protect your valuable data since they’re unique to every individual and quite challenging to obtain. At least they should be.

Companies behind facial recognition technology used in smart cities are frequent targets of hacking attacks. 

For instance, in 2019, a company behind access control systems implemented in organizations and governments in 83 countries faced a cyberattack. They lost 23 gigabytes of data, including passwords, facial recognition data, and fingerprints.

Their storing system lacked proper encryption, and it revealed sensitive information to the public resulting in significant security issues.

Unfortunately, data breaches containing biometric data are very difficult to handle since an individual’s biometric features cannot be changed if compromised like passwords. 

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2. Issues With Storing Data 

Safely storing biometric data is another challenge smart cities and companies are facing. While experts emphasize that the cloud is a safer storage option and is more secure than keeping data on local servers, it has its own share of flaws.

Suppose the cloud service storing your biometric data isn’t encrypted, or the encryption key isn’t adequately protected. In that case, third parties could access your data, which could easily result in a data breach.  

3. Misuse Of The Collected Data

One of the biggest concerns people are faced with is a somewhat dystopian idea of the surveillance state.

While some countries use facial recognition technology to speed up boarding processes in airports, other governments or companies took a step further and started implementing biometric technology, AI, surveillance cameras, and other technologies to monitor their citizens or customers. 

Some of these approaches are supposed to improve citizens’ quality of life and protect them from various threats like terrorism and similar crimes.

However, many are still reluctant to the idea of constant surveillance regardless of the purpose because once these technologies are implemented, the concept of privacy will be gone forever. 

The Future Of Smart Cities

Alongside being convenient and giving instant access to a whole array of services, these technologies can protect our most vulnerable citizens. However, we have to be mindful of how we’re going to protect our privacy.

Thus, make sure to always use a VPN service while connecting to public networks to protect your sensitive data from intruders.

Keep in mind to turn off your location, WiFi, and Bluetooth to prevent any in-store tracking that could share your sensitive data with the retail stores you’re visiting. And lastly, keep your authentication data encrypted and safely stored at all times. 

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