THREE WEEKS AGO, the King's Cross estate revealed its embrace of facial recognition technology. The next day, the Information Commissioner's Office said it wanted a word, and now the development has quietly abandoned it. What a rollercoaster.
While the notoriously shonky software had been used on a couple of cameras on a pedestrian street running through the heart of the development between for nearly two years, the developer has said it has "no plans to reintroduce any form of facial recognition technology at the King's Cross Estate."
The post on the official website is brief, because the company is "continuing to co-operate with the ICO," it writes. "We do not intend to comment whilst its work continues," the statement reads, adding that it wants to clarify five things.
Here they are, verbatim:
The King's Cross Estate does not currently use FRT.
Two FRT cameras, covering a single location at King's Boulevard, were operational between May 2016 and March 2018.
During that time, data processed via the FRT system was regularly deleted, with the final deletion taking place in March 2018.
The King's Cross Estate team has since undertaken work on the potential introduction of new FRT, but this work has stopped. There has been no operational FRT system at the King's Cross Estate since March 2018.
The FRT system was never used for marketing or other commercial purposes. The system was used only to help the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police prevent and detect crime in the neighbourhood and ultimately to help ensure public safety.
That all sounds well and good, except that studies have shown facial recognition tech to be riddled with biases, and dangerously inaccurate. Most recently, a study found it had an error rate of 81 per cent, which sounds bad, but is alarmingly an improvement on its previous low of 98 per cent.
With that in mind, it's pretty disconcerting that the developers only seem to have had a change of heart thanks to the "considerable media interest." As Daragh Murray, senior lecturer in human rights law at the University of Essex told The Guardian: "We still don't really know what they were doing with the technology and how they were able to get away with using it for so long without the public knowing."
One developer has been cowed into abandoning the tech. How many others are just keeping it on the down-low? µ
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