Biometrics, Creepy or Convenient?

By January 29, 2019

We often talk about the balance between convenience and security but what about the balance between convenience and creepiness? When does the balance tip to a technology being a little too creepy?

My smartphone captures so much personal data from me that it even knows when I have parked my car and got out of it. Very convenient if I have forgotten what parking bay I have parked my car in but perhaps a little bit creepy in that it knows my every move. The concern is who else can access this very personal data and what control mechanisms are in place to help prevent this data getting into the wrong hands? This is a question as much about trust as it is security.

With biometric technology, the level of creepiness can be ratcheted up a notch or two. It’s something I’ve been considering more and more since being quoted by The Times in the UK in September 2018 when I was interviewed about biometric payments.  I stated that biometrics can be either “useful” or “creepy” and “the fact is that biometrics can often verge on the creepy”[i].

Let’s take a look at a couple of realistic scenarios for biometric technology. It’s up to you to decide which is creepy or convenient…

Scenario one: While waiting in a queue to pay at a petrol (gas) station a screen displays personalised adverts based on my age, gender and ethnic background. A camera located at the entrance of the petrol station captures my face and then passes this to an algorithm that determines age, gender and ethnic background. It then uses this data to serve up personalised ads. Creepy or convenient?

Scenario two: A high-profile VIP is attacked by a weaponised automated drone that uses facial recognition to identify its target. Creepy or convenient?

Scenario three: While accessing my online banking account, a behavioral biometric system is learning about how I interact with technology, how I use my smartphone or how I type on a keyboard to develop a unique profile that can be used to identity me and to prevent anyone else (imposters) from accessing my account. Creepy or convenient?

Scenario two, the killer drone, is an extreme example but it does highlight how biometric technology can be used for nefarious purposes.

I believe that this is a vitally important balance for biometric technology companies and the service providers that are building biometrics into their applications and services to get right. How can industry best get the balance right and what is the role of regulation in ensuring that biometric technology is convenient rather than creepy? I’d welcome your comments on this and shall be exploring this topic in more detail in my keynote presentation, Biometrics, creepy or convenient? at the Biometric Summit New York 2019 on April 4. I hope to connect with you at this event which you can register for here