4 Ways Facial Recognition Could Impact Society

Facial recognition may change some vital parts of our lives


Facial recognition is not a new concept. In fact, watch any 1990s thriller and at some point somebody will have their face scanned in a Hollywood perception of the secure technology of the future. We have used it extensively for a number of new products too, from the various quirky filters on Snapchat that let Kim Kardashian pretend she’s a cat, to EU citizens having their identities checked without needing to hand their passport to a border agent.

However, the technology is becoming even more prevalent in society and new products and services are using the technology in new ways, each of which could have a significant impact on society moving forward. So we decided to take an in-depth look at 4 ways these changes could manifest themselves.


Fintech developments have meant that there are new ways of paying for things all the time. What started off with contactless cards soon moved to NFC for phones which would be authorized with a thumb print, and Amazon even opened a shop which required no kind of payment device present. However, facial recognition could mean that in future you never need a form of payment in order to pay for something.

China is leading the way in facial recognition for a variety of technological and social reasons, and a KFC branch in Hangzhou has begun letting their customers pay for their meals with nothing more than their face. Diners approach the till and can choose ‘facial scan’ as a payment option (alongside a phone number) which is linked to their Alibaba Alipay account.

Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, who created the technology, has referred to the technology as ‘smile to pay’ technology when it was originally unveiled in 2015. At present it is only being used in this KFC store, but if it is successful, it could be rolled out across other areas of China and then potentially across the rest of the world.

Crime Fighting

At a recent Beer festival in Qingdao, Chinese police services set up cameras using facial recognition software to identify wanted criminals. It was a success, with reports claiming that they managed to identify 25 people on the run from the law, including one man who had been wanted for 10 years. Similarly in the UK, the police are reported to have used facial recognition software at the Notting Hill carnival, which has seen increasing numbers of violent crimes in recent years following a record number of arrests at the festival in 2016.

It will come as no surprise that this is being rolled out across the world simply because there are already at least 500,000 CCTV cameras in London alone, so overlaying facial recognition software seems like the next logical step. Ultimately, with 500,000 cameras there is a potential for 12 million hours of footage to be recorded daily, trying to sift through even 1% of that would be overwhelming and time consuming. Through adding facial recognition a search for somebody which could have previously taken days or weeks, can now be done in hours or minutes.


The iPhone 8 has naturally had a huge amount of interest around it due to it simply being something new released by Apple. However, facial recognition is a technology that Android has been using since 2015, with mixed results. Many people simply don’t like using it, others haven’t bothered to set it up, and others simply don’t want to unlock their phone whenever they look at it.

However, as this technology becomes more pervasive in society, we are likely to see an increased variety of use, where unlocking a phone is the foundation and soon starting a car, opening a front door, or even accessing a bank account could be done through nothing more than looking into a camera. It is going to add an extra layer of security to some of the most valuable items we own, making them even more difficult to steal.

Data Security and Privacy

One of the biggest issues that facial recognition faces is that it seems like a step beyond any kind of data gathering currently taking place and therefore appears to cross a distinct line regarding data privacy.

The facial recognition software used at the beer festival in Qingdao was reported to have a reliability of 98.1%, which on the surface seems good. However, if there are 100 million people on a database, for instance, that would mean potential misidentification of 1.9 million people, whether that’s innocent people unintentionally identified as criminals or dangerous criminals remaining unidentified. With facial recognition software becoming more common in society, more and more information about each person is stored by increasingly diverse organizations.

With this diversity of data being held by a larger number of companies, the chances of loss or theft increases and even the ability to know if your personal data has been breached is impacted. Data loss of personal information is always an issue for individuals, but as soon as this moves from relatively disconnected information to actual biometric data, this climbs to an entirely new level. 


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