Americans Trust Police, but Not Advertisers, to Use Facial Recognition Technology Responsibly

Pew study finds people don't have faith in social networks either

illustration of the outline of two people's faces with a double helix, arrows and an eye overlapping them
Eighty-six percent of Pew respondents said they had heard something about facial recognition technology. Getty Images

When it comes to using facial recognition technology, most Americans trust law enforcement agencies to use the capability responsibly, but don’t have the same faith in social networks, technology companies or advertisers.

Those were the results of Pew Research Center’s recent survey to determine the country’s opinion on the use of facial recognition technology.

The researcher polled 4,272 U.S. adults in June and found that 56% of them trusted law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition technology responsibly, and 59% believe it is acceptable for those agencies to do so in order to assess security threats in public spaces.

Meanwhile, only 36% of respondents expressed the same trust in technology companies, and just 18% did so for advertisers.

The numbers were even more drastic when it came to having a “great deal” of trust in responsible usage of the technology, with just 5% saying this was true for technology companies and a mere 2% for advertisers.

Pew Research Center

On the social networking side, Facebook has been on the cutting edge of incorporating facial recognition into its platform, but recent events have done little to improve the trust factor.

When the Federal Trade Commission released the details of its record $5 billion privacy settlement with the social network in July, the FTC also released a complaint, which included an allegation that some 30 million people did not receive sufficient information about their ability to disable its facial-recognition tool that identified people in photos on the social network and offered tag suggestions.

Facebook responded earlier this week by disclosing that it is phasing out tag suggestions in favor of the face recognition setting it began introducing in December 2017.

Pew also found that 86% of respondents had heard something about facial recognition technology, while 25% had heard a lot and 13% knew nothing about it.

Regarding the technology’s effectiveness, 73% believe it is at least somewhat accurate at identifying individual people, while 63% believe the same for gender and 61% for race.

Pew found that whites, Republicans and older adults were more trusting of the use of facial recognition by law enforcement than African Americans, Democrats and younger adults, respectively.

As for other uses of the technology, only 36% of respondents believe it is appropriate for tracking people entering or leaving apartment buildings, 30% for monitoring employee attendance and just 15% for seeing how people respond to ads in real time. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.