ICO Investigation Into Police Use of Facial Recognition Technology

ICO head Elizabeth Dunham is reported to have launched a formal investigation into how police forces use facial recognition technology (FRT) after high failure rates, misidentifications and worries about legality, bias, and privacy.

Concerns Expressed In Blog Post In May

In a blog post on the ICO website back in May, Elizabeth Dunham expressed several concerns about how FRT was being operated and managed. For example, although she acknowledged that there may be significant public safety benefits from using FRT, Elizabeth Dunham highlighted concerns about:

  • A possible lack of transparency in FRT’s use by police and how there is a real risk that the public safety benefits derived from the use of FRT will not be gained if public trust is not addressed.
  • The absence of national level co-ordination in assessing the privacy risks and a comprehensive governance framework to oversee FRT deployment.  This has since been addressed to an extent by an oversight panel, and by the appointment of a National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) lead for the governance of the use of FRT technology in public spaces.
  • The use and retaining of images captured using FRT.
  • The need for clear evidence to demonstrate that the use of FRT in public spaces is effective in resolving the problem that it aims to address, and that it is no more intrusive than other methods.

Commissioner Dunham said that that legal action would be taken if the Home Office did not address her concerns.

Notting Hill Carnival & Football Events in South Wales

Back in May 2017, South Wales and Gwent Police forces announced that it would be running a trial of ‘real-time’ facial recognition technology on Champions League final day in Cardiff. In June, the trial of FRT at the final was criticised for costing £177,000 and yet only resulted in one arrest of a local man whose arrest was unconnected.

Also, after trials of FRT at the 2016 and 2017 Notting Hill Carnivals, Police faced criticism that it was ineffective, racially discriminatory, and confused men with women.

Research

Recent research by the University of Cardiff, which examined the use of the technology across a number of sporting and entertainment events in Cardiff for over a year, including the UEFA Champion’s League Final and the Autumn Rugby Internationals found that for 68% of submissions made by police officers in the Identify mode, the image had too low a quality for the system to work. Also, the research found that the locate mode of the FRT system couldn’t correctly identify a person of interest for 76% of the time.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses use CCTV for monitoring and security purposes, and most businesses are aware of the privacy and legal compliance aspects (GDPR) of using the system and how /where the images are managed and stored.

As a society, we are also used to being under surveillance by CCTV systems, which can have real value in helping to deter criminal activity, locate and catch perpetrators, and provide evidence for arrests and trials. It is also relatively common for CCTV systems to fail to provide good quality images and / or to be ineffective at clearly identifying persons and events.

With the much more advanced facial recognition technology used by police e.g. at public events, there does appear to be some evidence that it has not yet achieved the effectiveness that was hoped for, may not have justified the costs, and that concerns about public privacy may be valid to the point that the ICO deems it necessary to launch a formal and ongoing investigation.

New Hashtags Feature For Google Maps

Google has begun the global rollout of its new ‘hashtags’ feature in Google Maps, which allows users to add hashtags to the end of the reviews they write, thereby helping others to find local attractions and businesses.

How It Works

When using Google Maps e.g. to find places to eat or local attractions, if a Google Maps user then chooses to write a review afterwards, they are given the opportunity to add up to five hashtags to the end of the review (to keep the text easy to read).  The hashtags need to be specific to be useful e.g. #love or #food, but things like #familyfriendly, #wheelchairaccessible, #sunsetviews, or #vegetarian.

The idea is that these hashtags will make it easier for other users to discover places that have been recommended by others for specific reasons, thereby increasing the value of Google Maps to users.

More Competitive

From Google’s point of view, this (and other new features) could help Google Maps to compete against other platforms in the world of social recommendations as well as other popular local search offerings such as Yelp.

Just Local Guides For Now

So far in the rollout of Hashtags, it’s only available on Android for members of Maps’ Local Guides program.  This is the program where members receive rewards for sharing their opinions and photos for the places they visit and review.

Added to ‘Follow’ & ‘My Business’ Updates

The new hashtag feature comes right after the new ‘Follow’ feature that was introduced to Maps last month.  ‘Follow’ allows users to click a follow button for locations which enables them to receive updates about any events and offers e.g. from favourite stores and restaurants, and information about new places that are due to open soon.

The update to ‘My Business’ in Google was to enable businesses to update their Maps profile with new content, use the app to view and respond to reviews and messages, and to enable businesses to add all the content that will work with ‘Follow’.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Local search and platforms offering users value-adding information and recommendations about the places they plan to visit are now competitive areas, and Google wants to stay ahead of the game.  Adding social elements such as hashtags, ‘Follow’, and direct messaging all contribute to the vital engagement factor for Google and can be monetised.

Other updates to Google Maps that could add even more value to Google’s platform from a consumer’s point of view are a useful commuter tab that shows a user information about their commute e.g. real-time public transit information and status alerts about anything that could cause delays, and allowing users to control their music from inside Google Maps. Google is clearly well placed and is fighting hard to make its platform more attractive than competing offerings.  It will be a matter of opinion, however, how user-friendly all these bundled features turn out to be.

New Political Ad Transparency Rules Tested With Pro-Brexit Website

No sooner had Facebook announced new rules to force political advertisers to prove their identities and their ad spend than an anonymous pro-Brexit campaign website with a massive £257,000 ad spend was discovered.

Mainstream Network

The anonymous website and campaign identified only as ‘Mainstream Network’ was discovered by Campaign group 89up. Clicking on the Facebook adverts by Mainstream Network takes users to a page on their local constituency and MP, and clicking from there was found to generate an email to their MP requesting that the Prime Minister should abandon her Chequers Brexit deal. It has also been discovered that a copy of each of the emails is sent back to Mainstream Network.

11 Million People Reached

Campaign group 89up estimate that the unknown backers of Mainstream Network must have spent in the region of £257,000 to date on the Facebook adverts, which 89up estimate could have reached 11 million people.

What’s The Problem?

The problem with these political adverts is that Facebook has recently announced new rules in the UK that require anyone wishing to place an advert relating to a live political issue, promoting a UK political candidate, referencing political figures, political parties, elections, legislation before Parliament and past referenda that are the subject of national debate, to prove their identity, and prove that they are based in the UK. Policing this should involve obtaining proof of identity and where they are based e.g. by checking a passport / driving licence / resident permit. According to Facebook, any political adverts must also carry a “Paid for by” disclaimer to enable Facebook users to see who the adverts are from, and the “Paid for by” link next to each advert should link through to a publicly searchable archive of political adverts showing a range of the ad’s budget and number of people reached, and the other ads that Page is running, and previous ads from the same source.

GDPR Breach Too?

It is also believed that sending a copy of the email back to Mainstream Network, in this case, could also constitute a breach of GDPR.

First Job For Facebook’s Nick Clegg

What to do about Mainstream Network and their campaign could end up being the first big task of Facebook’s newly appointed global communications chief and former deputy PM Sir Nick Clegg. It’s been reported that Mark Zuckerberg himself and Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg were personally involved in recruiting Mr Clegg given the importance and nature of the role.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

After Facebook announced new rules to ensure political ad-transparency, the discovery of Mainstream Network’s anonymous adverts and the scale of the ad spend and reach must be at the very least embarrassing and awkward for Facebook, and is another piece of unwanted bad publicity for the social network tech giant. Whatever a campaign of this kind and scale is for, Facebook must really be seen to act in order to retain the credibility of its claims that it wants political ad transparency, not to lose any more of the trust if its users and advertisers, and to avoid being linked with any more political influence scandals.

Facebook has recently faced many other high profile problems including how much tax it pays, the scandal of sharing user details with Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ (over the UK referendum), a fine by the ICO for breaches of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act, and a major hack, and is perhaps with all this in mind that it has hired a former politician and UK Deputy Prime minister. Some political commentators have also noted that it may be very useful for Facebook to have a person on-board who knows the key players, who has reach and is able to lobby on Facebook’s behalf in one of its toughest regulatory areas, the European Union.

Facebook Messenger May Introduce Voice Commands

It has been reported that Facebook has been testing how voice commands could be used in its Messenger platform to help users to send messages, initiate voice calls and set reminders.

Internally Testing

Facebook is reported to have confirmed to tech news platform ‘TechCrunch’ that it is internally testing a prototype of voice control (which was discovered by a TechCrunch tipster) in the M assistant of Messenger.

Facebook’s new speech recognition feature goes by the name of ‘Aloha’. It is believed that Aloha will be used for Facebook and Messenger apps, as well as external hardware. The Aloha voice assistant could become part of Facebook’s planned Portal video chat screen device / smart speaker, which is currently in development.

Benefits

Enabling voice control in the Messenger platform could bring considerable benefits to users, such as being able to use Messenger ‘hands-free’ in the car, improving accessibility, and generally making it easier for people to use the Messenger platform in the home and on the go.

How Will It Work?

Initial reports indicate that Aloha will be activated in Messenger by tapping an M assistant button which will appear at the top of a message thread screen. This will enable listening for voice commands.

Need To Differentiate

Apart from the obvious, high profile, negative publicly over the Cambridge Analytica data sharing and the recent massive hack, Facebook has experienced challenges in recent times as many of its younger users have moved to Snapchat. Facebook bought Instagram in a move that many saw as a way to attract the young users that moved from Facebook, but this strategy doesn’t appear to have been highly successful.

Adding a voice assistant to Messenger could, therefore, be a way for it to tackle part of this issue, and to differentiate its Messenger option from competitors such as SMS, Snapchat, Android Messages, iMessage and other texting platforms. Facebook is also known to be experimenting with other visual features such as Facebook Stories, augmented reality filters and more in order to help engage and retain users, and differentiate its services.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Facebook has been relatively late to the market with a digital voice assistant, but it appears to have found a way to deploy it at a time when it may be most needed to help differentiate its services from competing services, and to generate some good publicity amid the bad.

One of the biggest challenges that Facebook has at the moment, apart from the fact that Snapchat, iMessage, WhatsApp and other services are already popular and users may be loyal, is one of trust by users. The Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal, and the recent hack which could have more reverberations as cyber-criminals sell and use the data they stole, may mean that users may not trust Facebook to handle their speech data as responsibly as they would like. There are, for example, stories of how other digital voice assistants have listened-in on their users e.g. back in May when an Amazon Echo (Alexa) recorded a woman’s conversation and shared it with one of her husband’s employees. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether users will now be willing to trust Facebook with what is still quite a sensitive area of personal data governance, particularly where business conversations are concerned.