Facing Real-Time Identification in Mobile Apps & Wearable Computers

47 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2013 Last revised: 17 Aug 2013

See all articles by Yana Welinder

Yana Welinder

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society

Date Written: June 18, 2013


The use of face recognition technology in mobile apps and wearable computers challenges individuals’ ability to remain anonymous in public places. These apps can also link individuals’ offline activities to their online profiles, generating a digital paper trail of their every move. The ability to go off the radar allows for quiet reflection and daring experimentation — processes that are essential to a productive and democratic society. Given what we stand to lose, we ought to be cautious with groundbreaking technological progress. It does not mean that we have to move any slower, but we should think about potential consequences of the steps that we take.

This Article maps out the recently launched face recognition apps and some emerging regulatory responses to offer initial policy considerations. With respect to current apps, app developers should consider how the relevant individuals could be put on notice given that the apps will not only be using information about their users, but also about the persons being identified. They should also consider how the apps could minimize their data collection and retention and keep the data secure. Today’s face recognition apps mostly use photos from social networks. They therefore call for regulatory responses that consider the context in which users originally shared the photos. Most importantly, the Article highlights that the Federal Trade Commission’s first policy response to consumer applications that use face recognition did not follow the well-established principle of technology neutrality. The Article argues that any regulation with respect to identification in real time should be technology neutral and narrowly address harmful uses of computer vision without hampering the development of useful applications.

Keywords: face recognition technology, biometric data, privacy, mobile applications, wearable computing, cyborgs, user experience design, human-computer interaction, Federal Trade Commission, Article 29 Working Party

Suggested Citation

Welinder, Yana, Facing Real-Time Identification in Mobile Apps & Wearable Computers (June 18, 2013). Santa Clara Computer and High Technology Law Journal, Vol. 30, 2013, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2280968

Yana Welinder (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

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