Home PublicationsCommentary Americans Support Musicians Like Taylor Swift Using Facial Recognition To Spot Stalkers at Concerts

Americans Support Musicians Like Taylor Swift Using Facial Recognition To Spot Stalkers at Concerts

by Daniel Castro

According to a recent interview in Rolling Stone, the security team at a venue for a Taylor Swift concert last year created a kiosk that took photos of people as they watched videos and then used facial recognition technology to check to see if any of those concert-goers matched a database of hundreds of the pop star’s known stalkers. While privacy activists have argued that using facial recognition technology in this way is inappropriate, a new survey by the Center for Data Innovation shows few Americans agree.

When news broke about the high-tech method used to stop potential stalkers, privacy activists went on record with their outrage. For example, Jay Stanley, a policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), complained that it was unfair that concertgoers were “essentially tricked” into providing their image. And Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, implied this action amounted to a potential human rights violation, saying, “This is stuff we have seen happen in China, and in the United Arab Emirates but not in the United States.”

This uproar is misguided. After all, stalking is a serious problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 15.5 percent of women and 5.7 percent of men are victims of stalking during their lifetimes. Numerous celebrities have been targeted by stalkers, from John Lennon to Madonna, often with tragic results. It is ironic that these privacy activists have chosen to prioritize reducing facial recognition rather than reducing stalking—the latter of which clearly involves a greater risk to individual safety and privacy. Moreover, to address their concerns, many privacy activists suggest either limiting the use of facial recognition technology or providing notice and consent to users—two proposals which would seriously limit the viability of many uses of facial recognition, such as a recent pilot project in India that identified nearly 3,000 missing children. After all, how many stalkers, kidnappers, and human traffickers would provide their consent?

While some privacy activists may be up in arms about this use of facial recognition, they are clearly out of touch with most Americans on this issue. According to a new survey, by a two-to-one ratio, Americans support this type of use of facial recognition. In a new poll from the Center for Data Innovation, only 2 out of 10 Americans (20.6 percent) disagreed with the statement “Musicians like Taylor Swift should be allowed to use facial recognition technology to identify known stalkers.”

Table 1: Responses to survey question “Agree or disagree? Musicians like Taylor Swift should be allowed to use facial recognition technology to identify known stalkers at their concerts.”

There was some variation in public opinion by demographics. Opposition to this type of use of facial recognition to identify stalkers was lowest among respondents aged 55 and older (15.2 percent) compared to 18- to 34-year-olds (27.3 percent). Women were also less likely to oppose this use of facial recognition than men, with 17.2 percent of female respondents disagreeing with the above statement compared to 24.2 percent males.

This survey reaffirms earlier findings that show that when it comes to facial recognition technology many Americans are willing to trade some privacy for other benefits like safety or efficiency. While some Americans may have some concerns about facial recognition technology, it is clear that a growing number are willing to “shake it off.”

Image credit: Flickr user jazills

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