After a school shooting in Parkland, Florida left 17 people dead, RealNetworks decided to make its facial recognition technology available for free to schools across the US and Canada. If school officials could detect strangers on their campuses, they might be able to stop shooters before they got to a classroom. Anxious to keep children safe from gun violence, thousands of schools reached out with interest in the technology. Dozens started using SAFR, RealNetworks' facial recognition technology. From working with schools, RealNetworks, the streaming media company, says it's learned an important lesson: Facial recognition isn't likely an effective tool for preventing shootings.
Civilian surveillance in China has seen a boom in recent times, with facial recognition leading the charge in the technologies used to keep tabs on the population. Police are scanning travelers with facial recognition glasses, authorities are using the tech to monitor ethnic minorities -- now the Orwellian technology has a new target: kids. Three cameras have been installed above a blackboard at Hangzhou Number 11 High School in eastern China. The system identifies seven different facial expressions -- neutral, happy, sad, disappointed, angry, scared and surprised -- to determine whether children are focused on their lessons, and if they're not, the computer will feed this back to the teacher. So far the technology is in just one classroom, but will roll out across the school by the summer.
With the wave of school shootings that have swept the U.S. in recent years, concerns about physical security and safety have overwhelmed parents, teachers and school administrators alike. Facial recognition technology, which would allow schools and law enforcement to quickly identify who is entering their schools and when could give school districts a powerful means to make schools even safer. Last month, RealNetworks, the streaming media company that garnered attention in the '90s and early 2000s for developing the first audio streaming solution, announced it would offer its facial recognition software, SAFR, for free to over 100,000 school districts. "School safety has become one of the top national issues in the United States in 2018," said Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks in a press release. "We are proud to give our leading-edge SAFR for K-12 technology solution to every elementary, middle, and high school in America and Canada.
The facial-recognition cameras installed near the bounce houses at the Warehouse, an after-school recreation center in Bloomington, Indiana, are aimed low enough to scan the face of every parent, teenager and toddler who walks in. The center's director, David Weil, learned earlier this year of the surveillance system from a church newsletter, and within six weeks he had bought his own, believing it promised a security breakthrough that was both affordable and cutting-edge. Since last month, the system has logged thousands of visitors' faces – alongside their names, phone numbers and other personal details – and checked them against a regularly updated blacklist of sex offenders and unwanted guests. The system's Israeli developer, Face-Six, also promotes it for use in prisons and drones. "Some parents still think it's kind of '1984,' " said Weil, whose 21-month-old granddaughter is among the scanned.
When Lockport City School District in New York announced it was planning on using the technology, the New York Civil Liberties Union came out against the move, calling the cameras "invasive and error-prone," and raising concerns about children's privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas similarly condemned a move by an Arkansas school district to install cameras equipped with facial recognition, nothing they could be vulnerable to hacking.