In New Tests, Facial Recognition Products Are Consistently Thwarted by Masks
Ongoing tests of facial recognition technology continue to show that the technology is baffled when people wear masks of the sort that have become widespread (and even mandatory) in some places during the current pandemic. Forty-one newly tested algorithms—some of which were designed to compensate for face coverings—show the same dramatically elevated error rates as those examined earlier.
The tests have important implications for privacy at a time when surveillance technology is growing increasingly pervasive—but so is mask wearing. These studies are of interest, too, in an era of political instability and growing concern over law enforcement excesses, when people may have a strong interest in making identification of opponents and protesters difficult for the powers-that-be.
The tested facial algorithms are additions to those scrutinized by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in a report issued in July. “Now that so many of us are covering our faces to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, how well do face recognition algorithms identify people wearing masks? The answer, according to a preliminary study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is with great difficulty,” NIST summarized its findings at the time. “Even the best of the 89 commercial facial recognition algorithms tested had error rates between 5% and 50% in matching digitally applied face masks with photos of the same person without a mask.”
While an error rate of 5 percent at the low end may not sound like much, that’s under near-ideal conditions. The algorithms were tested in one-to-one settings, of known subjects, like you might find at a passport checkpoint. And most of the systems suffered much higher error rates when dealing with covered faces.
Because of the growing popularity of face masks even before the pandemic, and their booming and often mandated usage since COVID-19 spread worldwide, facial recognition companies have raced to develop algorithms that can identify people despite coverings. NIST plans to test such technology in the future to see if it delivers as promised. But this latest round of algorithms isn’t part of that study.
“These algorithms were submitted to NIST after the pandemic began,” Chad Boutin, a science writer for NIST, told me by email. “However we do not have information on whether or not they were designed with face coverings in mind. The research team
Article from Latest – Reason.com