Privacy concerns? Civil liberty questions? Sure, those issues are very important. But they're not stopping facial recognition technology -- and the companies making it -- from going mainstream.

The latest example is the Department of Homeland Security's report this week that it will be using facial recognition technology to identify approximately 97 percent of airport passengers departing the country. The system -- which is already being used in 15 U.S. airports -- will photograph departing passengers and store images in a database that will then compare and cross-reference their details to passports, immigration forms, and -- I'm sure -- do-not-fly lists.

Facial recognition is easy to deploy. You don't need fingerprints. You don't even need to ask for permission. You just snap a photo, and the technology -- which uses two and three dimensional scans backed by powerful artificial intelligence software -- takes it from there.

The technology giants are already far along with this stuff. Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have developed their own facial recognition systems. Facebook's DeepFace can determine whether two photographs of a face are of the same person with an accuracy rate of more than 97 percent. Google claims it has 100 percent accuracy with its FaceNet technology, a system that is able to link a face to its owner with almost no errors.

Now, it's showtime.

Besides airports and governments, big retailers are jumping into the facial recognition game. Walmart, Target, and other giants have either tested or implemented the technology in certain locations. Saks has been testing the technology in a Canadian store. And the trend is poised to explode to "hundreds of retail locations, growing to thousands very soon," according to Peter Trepp, who runs facial recognition software company FaceFirst, in a BuzzFeed news report. No, these retailers don't want to invade your privacy ... yet. According to the BuzzFeed news report, the primary reason for retail use is to reduce the billions of dollars of lost sales that come from theft by employees and shoplifters and organized retail criminals.

The impact on you and your company should be clear: Facial recognition technology is poised to become an important part of the security in your business, whether you're trying to reduce theft or allow people access to your facilities, software, and products.

That's why a number of startups have raised billions of dollars to bring their offerings to your door. Hong Kong-based SenseTime, for example, last year announced image recognition technology that will help doctors here in the U.S. better diagnose cancer and other diseases. Ever AI, a San Francisco company, claims its facial recognition technology is even more powerful than Facebook's or Google's and offers development tools for companies looking to build this technology into their retail, payment, law enforcement, or building security systems.

Which brings us back to civil liberties and privacy. All of these uses, as they grow, will further erode existing safeguards, and many are already calling for new laws and tighter regulations to protect us all. I couldn't agree more. But good luck with that. None of this is stopping the industry from moving forward.

My prediction is that within the next five years, security systems incorporating facial recognition technology will be common and better than the one you're using in your store or building. Given that these systems can save significant amounts on theft, let alone provide a more secure working environment, your company will need to upgrade. So start saving.

Published on: Apr 18, 2019