Your face is your ticket: uncomfortable comfort


Barcelona—I used to open doors with my face.

On Monday, I walked into the conference center and instead of flashing a badge with my name and photo on it, I positioned myself in front of a camera about the height of my fist. After a few seconds the screen will say “Please enter”.

No one scanned the digital passport on my phone to get me into this year’s MWC, the annual tech trade show formerly known as Mobile World Congress. Facial recognition software did all the work.

Your visa can also be an entry ticket at your nearest destination. Delta Air Lines Inc.,

United Airlines Holdings Inc.

and JetBlue Airways Corporation

Ticketless facial scanning systems have been installed at many airports. This season, all Mets fans will be able to use facial recognition express lanes previously reserved for season ticket holders. embarrassing? cool? Based on my recent brush with technology, it’s both.

With facial recognition points abound, including at airports and concert venues, you’re probably wondering how you feel about it.

Companies that implement the speed, convenience, security and contactless benefits of face-to-face software for customers. Most of them worry that it’s just a choice. Meanwhile, lawmakers in several US states are looking to tighten laws around the use of such technology, citing privacy concerns and discrimination charges. Research has shown that the technique is generally inaccurate for women of color.

At this year’s MWC trade show in Barcelona, ​​attendees gained entry by standing in front of cameras equipped with face-recognition software. Angel Garcia / Bloomberg
At this year’s MWC trade show in Barcelona, ​​attendees gained entry by standing in front of cameras equipped with face-recognition software. Maurizio Martorana for Wall Street Journal

At this year’s MWC trade show in Barcelona, ​​attendees gained entry by standing in front of cameras equipped with face-recognition software. Angel Garcia/Bloomberg; Maurizio Martorana for Wall Street Journal

While the answer comes down to the individual, it helps if you know the company providing the service and the expected benefits: Do you want this company to store your biometric data? Are you getting something useful in return? Local laws also affect the extent to which facial recognition can be used and the extent to which data can be collected, so it also depends on where you are.

Taking your fingerprints

Facial recognition works by creating a map of your face. The map contains your unique measurements – the distance between your forehead and chin or between your eyes. These statistics are then converted into a code called a biometric token or face print.

Your iPhone’s Face ID is the way it identifies you, the way Google Photos can locate photos of your kids, or the way is. Inc

Astro Robot can tell family members from thieves. The tokens are not shared between different services – each uses its own immutable token.

GSMA, the industry group that organizes MWC and represents mobile network operators around the world, from Hong Kong-based ScanVis Ltd. It used a facial recognition service called Breeze developed by The service references viewers’ faces with photos submitted from government-issued IDs.

Breeze inlet is optional, but I opted for the speed. Before the event, non-wind participants can wait several days to confirm their registration. It took less than a minute to register with the MWC app to match my face to the picture on my passport using my phone’s camera.

In an interview with WSJ’s Joanna Stern at Journal House at MWC Barcelona, ​​Spain’s Secretary of State for Digitization Carme Artigas shares her views on the responsible use of facial recognition technology in public.

How secure is my data?

While the conference’s front-facing cameras are certainly convenient, every time I stared into the camera, I wondered who was staring back at me. Where does my image go and what can I do with it?

A company that stores facial data may be held by a company with a completely different purpose than the one you agreed to and sold to law enforcement or purchased. This type of abuse is mostly hypothetical. However, you can’t always track where your face is: One company has sold facial recognition technology based on billions of images scraped from Facebook, LinkedIn and other sources.

Some airlines may allow travelers to board a flight simply by looking into a camera instead of presenting a passport.


Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Joseph Kittler, a professor of machine intelligence at the University of Surrey in the UK, recommends looking for three things before agreeing to use biometric data: the purpose of collecting the data, what happens to your facial image if you don’t need it, and how the data will be deleted.

Conference organizers said attendees’ biometric tokens are encrypted and stored in Europe, although the data can be accessed from Hong Kong. The show’s privacy policy says the data is “securely destroyed” within 28 days, according to EU data-privacy laws. A GSMA spokesperson told me that data can be deleted within three days of the event closing. ScanVis, GSMA’s technology partner, did not respond to a request for comment.

Protecting your biometric data

While you almost always have the ability to opt out of facial recognition, it can cost you in the long run, says Jennifer King, a privacy and data policy fellow at Stanford’s Center for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. Note that the cash line at the toll booth is always much slower than the e-Zpass lines.

Share your thoughts

How do you feel about using your face as a ticket? Join the discussion below.

Another issue, she said, is that the US does not have federal laws governing opt-out and non-discrimination rights the way the European Union does. Not only are there European rules, but there are also regulators empowered to enforce them, Dr King said. Currently, a handful of states, including Illinois, Texas, and California, have biometric-privacy laws.

In January, New York’s attorney general began a comprehensive review of the Madison Square Garden entertainment complex. Corporation

, after lawyers for the New York City venue used facial recognition to defend against organizations suing the company to bar it from attending concerts or sporting events. In late February, a pair of court decisions expanded the scope of an Illinois law regulating companies’ use of biometric data, which includes facial and retina scans.

Facial scanning is becoming more prevalent in our travel and entertainment, as well as in other areas such as education, banking and law enforcement. Now we are beginning to understand the pros and cons.

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Write to Nicole Nguyen at

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