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Observation biometrics and Privacy: What Have You Got to Hide?

Human beings are complex. Each person has a story, and innumerable aspects and layers that come together to form a personality. As people interact with the world around them, they filter the information that they communicate about themselves to the world, allowing some things to be known, while not revealing other parts of themselves that they consider to be private.

I have a friend I’ve known since childhood. I know he likes to run, sail and fish. His favorite band is The Eagles, and his favorite dish is Spaghetti Bolognese. I even know what makes him tick and how to push his buttons. But, I only know what he has willingly shared with me over the course of our friendship.

The same can be said about his – or anyone’s – physical characteristics. Some physical traits are obvious upon seeing them – face, body shape, height, gait – while other physical characteristics require an up-close, or even invasive examination. Someone’s unique iris, fingerprint, heartbeat, veins or brainwave pattern is not visible to the naked eye. So when these characteristics are used for biometric identification, it raises a question of privacy.

Undoubtedly, the question of privacy is one that continues to arise in the global conversation about biometric identification. But, we must delineate and understand the difference between biometric solutions that reveal “hidden” biometrics such as fingerprints, irises, or veins, and those that utilize “observable” biometrics, such as face, body behavior or even voice.

Observable biometrics are, well, observable. They are things that a person can notice from a distance, and then clarify as an individual comes closer. No different than a friend saying, “Hey, I thought I saw you today walking down the street,” observable biometrics are the information we expose to the public by simply being. We don’t cover our faces, and we don’t hide our style of walking or voices.

In fact, with almost any social media channel, we can find this type of information about a person. We can go to his profile, see his pictures, and view his videos. Based on someone’s specific privacy settings, most of this information is available to the public.

When applying observable biometrics to biometric identification and secure access, one might argue that storing a person’s biometric information – even their observable biometrics —compromises an individual’s privacy. While a person might store observable biometric information in his or her brain to identify several hundred people – friends, relatives, coworkers and others — no person, no matter how good his memory, will be able to remember tens of thousands of faces and names.

A computer’s biometrics system, however, can “remember” hundreds of thousands of people, and this is precisely what makes them dangerous; a person might forget a face, but a computer won’t. How then, can we make use of observable biometrics in a way that does not encroach on a person’s privacy?

At FST Biometrics, we believe in maintaining our users’ privacy. As such, our IMID technology does not try to uncover “hidden biometrics.” We use the same information that is available to the naked eye. Additionally, our customers have databases of users that are only used by the company on an opt-in basis. To further protect the privacy of our users, we use encryption algorithms, which anonymize all of our data so that our users’ privacy remains protected.

My Eagles-loving friend might be perfectly comfortable opening himself up to friendly banter by tagging himself in embarrassing photos using Facebook’s facial recognition tools. But when it comes to using his observable biometrics for identification purposes, he’ll want to make sure his identity is secure. With FST, all users can rest assured that their information –even public-facing information –remains private.


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