Google has a new app in its arts and culture category. You snap a selfie of your face and it matches you to a famous piece of artwork. Here’s an example of how it works, courtesy of the American Bar Association Journal. In an unusual move, Google has voluntarily blocked the app’s use in Illinois and Texas, according to the Wall Street Journal. The reason is that those two states have privacy laws that restrict the use of biometrics (facial recognition). Google is apparently acting proactively rather than risk being sued under those states’ laws.
The reason for the laws is that biometrics is a potential area for identity theft. With facial recognition now being used to log into various accounts, including financial accounts, having someone’s picture could allow thieves access to those accounts simply by obtaining copies of the scanned photos used by the app. If you think that’s unlikely, I have one word: Equifax. Data breaches are becoming increasingly more common. No data in the cloud or accessible through the cloud are safe.
All of this leads to a bigger question. Should you download and use biometric recognition apps? It sounds cool, it’s convenient (after all, you always have your face with you) and it’s safer than using a password, right? Maybe wrong. Maybe not less safe, but maybe not safer. The rising use of social media for everything — how often are you asked to log onto a site using Facebook — has made us all less aware of subtle invasions of privacy. If your private accounts can be accessed by your smiling face, every selfie, every photograph someone snaps of you, that you post to Facebook Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, your blog or wherever potentially erodes that privacy wall that we all sometimes like to retreat behind. Big Brother doesn’t have to be watching when we’re handing everything to him anyway.