Seven ways that facial recognition companies are changing thanks to COVID-19

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, facial recognition technology is rising up as a valuable resource in identity management and security.

The coronavirus crisis has caused global ripples across business and country. It has altered the way organisations do business, how people engage with one another, and the boundaries of communication and collaboration.

Industries are mobilising digital and tech to remain agile in the COVID-19 pandemic and one technology has seen significant traction – facial recognition. Facial recognition technology companies are helping authorities and companies to identify those who have been infected by the virus.

Here are eight examples of how companies and governments have leveraged facial recognition to detect COVID-19 and reduce the spread of infection in the pandemic:

01: Contactless symptom detection: Facial recognition combines thermography

The novel coronavirus causes COVID-19. The terms are used interchangeably, but coronavirus is to COVID-19 what HIV is to AIDS, the one causes the other. As people show symptoms of COVID-19 they usually exhibit a high temperature, a dry cough, and a sore throat, but it’s the temperature that’s important here. With the body’s heat rising to more than 39.1 degrees, a fever has become one of the most common identifiers of COVID-19.

This has led biometric company Dermalog to adapt its facial recognition technology to make it capable of identifying a fever. According to the company website, the technology will set off an alarm if a person entering the premises has an elevated temperature indicating possible symptoms of COVID-19.

Chinese company Telpo has combined facial recognition with infrared thermography to enable close range identification of an individual’s temperature. Telpo has introduced a range of biometric terminals that can not only identify heat, but can also detect identity whether or not the person is wearing a mask.

02: Contactless identification: Switching biometric fingerprints for faces

There’s a case to be made for the use of facial recognition during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic – it minimises risk considerably. Biometric fingerprint readers have been disabled as they become seething minefields of infection with authorities in both India and New York insisting that fingerprint security comes to an end during the COVID-19 outbreak.

So, instead of placing people at checkpoints to physically check identities, the solution is to implement contactless facial recognition technology that’s capable of identifying individuals with or without masks. In China, Hanwang Technology Ltd has developed a technology that’s capable of identifying people when they’re wearing masks.

While also capable of detecting temperature, this is one of the facial recognition companies that’s taken COVID-19 identification to the next level by introducing both single channel recognition for office entrances and multi-channel recognition for multiple surveillance cameras.

03: Maintaining security in COVID-19

One of the overarching goals of the Hangwang Technology solution is to ensure that citizen security remains a priority during the outbreak. With masks, shut-down biometric terminals and a dearth of security personnel, organisations and institutions are at risk.

The solution developed by Hangwang Technology has been adopted by the Ministry of Public Security because, “It can detect crime suspects, terrorists or make reports or warnings,” said Huang Lei, the Vice President of Hangwang in an interview with Reuters.

cctv using facial recognition technology
CCTV cameras are often integrated with facial recognition technology.

04: Ensuring citizen compliance during the outbreak

Both Russia and China have implemented facial recognition technology solutions alongside algorithms, artificial intelligence, and tracking technology, to ensure that citizens remain compliant during their respective lockdowns. A recent report on the BBC revealed how Moscow is using facial recognition across thousands of cameras in parallel with digital passes on mobile phones to keep track of people.

05: Finding the face behind the mask

Many facial recognition tools, especially the less sophisticated systems on mobile devices, have struggled with reliable identification as more and more people wear masks. The software baffled by the changes in shape and line introduced by the mask.

It’s a problem that’s already been solved by two companies – Hangwang and Herta. Herta is a Spanish company that has recently announced the launch of a facial recognition algorithm that’s capable of looking behind the mask and identifying the individual. The company had already been working on the problem prior to the COVID-19 crisis to assist medical personnel and to allow for accurate identification in healthcare facilities.

06: Finding the faces not wearing masks

In some countries, masks are mandatory and people are expected to wear them no matter where they go or for how long. Facial recognition technology companies didn’t take long to fill this particular gap in the market. Chinese firm Baidu has claimed that it had trained its algorithm to achieve an accuracy of 96.5% in identifying those who were not wearing masks in public places.

07: Paying attention to ethics and transparency of facial recognition technology

There’s no denying that the ability to detect a person’s temperature before they get on a bus and possibly spread COVID-19 to other people is extremely valuable in a pandemic. There’s equally plenty of evidence that stands behind how rigorous citizen monitoring and tracking played a huge role in minimising the impact of COVID-19 in China and other countries.

But there remains the risk that the technologies implemented now will not be quietly removed once the pandemic is over. That governments and organisations will continue to monitor and track people across the thousands of cameras with thousands of advanced surveillance algorithms.

Only a few countries have locked these concerns into law or discussed potential legislation around how facial recognition will be regulated in the future, making this a time of not just health insecurity, but personal information insecurity. The value of the technology is there, but there’s a growing need to protect the people as much as the technology is designed to protect them.

UK-based company FORTYEIGHT has recognised the need for transparency and accountability and developed a solution that ensures organisations can use facial recognition to reduce the spread of COVID-19 without the sticky risks that stem from the invasion of privacy and bias.

The solution allows for companies to leverage APIs that provide real-time consumer transparency for recognition systems. Designed to deliver trust, the solution reduces risk and automates compliance for companies looking to remain secure and ethical in the COVID-19 era.

Nicholas Oliver

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