July 31, 2019
“Hello Mudddah, Hello Faddah, Here I am at Camp Granada. Camp is very entertaining. And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.”
Those lyrics were written by comedian Allan Sherman—and produced as one of the most popular songs of 1963. Meant to satirize the sleepover camp experience through the eyes (and vocal cords) of a homesick child, the song is punctuated by the chorus, “Take me home, Oh Muddah, Fadduh, Take me home. I hate Granada.”
But the reality is that, when kids leave for summer camp for the first time (or any time), their parents miss them, too—and wonder what they are doing, if they are making friends, and if they are settling in. They wait anxiously for cards and emails—and check the camp’s daily photos for what they hope will be a happy and smiling face.
And that part is getting easier all the time: Summer camps across the country are allowing parents to opt into facial-recognition services to receive photos of their camper without having to sift through hundreds of group shots for proof that little Susie is having a good time climbing ropes, The Wall Street Journal reported on July 30.
Camp photographers can upload photos to a service, where they are scanned and identified. Parents then receive photos of their kids via text or through a website.
Waldo Photos of Austin, Texas, Inc. is one of the services, now offered at more than 150 summer camps across the country. The service is starting to be adopted by schools and sports leagues, too.
Camps either pay for Waldo, themselves, and offer it to parents or they ask parents to pay directly at a price of $1 to $2 per child a day, the Journal reports. If parents want to sign up to receive photos through Waldo, they have to submit a reference photo of their child so that the artificial intelligence (AI )can detect a match. The images are stored until a parent asks for them to be deleted.
Is that a good thing?
Rodney Rice, Waldo’s founder, said the facial data the company uses to identify kids would be no good to anyone else. “The misperception is that facial recognition is a fingerprint. I could hand a 40-digit alphanumeric hash to Google or Facebook and they couldn’t do anything with it,” he said. “I’m a father of three and I’d have never started this business if I was going to be putting kids at risk.”
While commercial applications of facial-recognition software abound—and bear their own fair share of controversy—the fact that this latest wave is geared toward children has privacy experts and politicians urging parents, camps, and school districts to think twice.
Concerns over this precious data—children’s faces—range from accuracy to abuse, the Journal says. Could it one day be used for purposes other than that for which it’s currently intended?
In the movie, Minority Report, biometric systems created for marketing are commandeered to hunt down citizens suspected of wrongdoing. There’s no evidence of this happening yet, but as science fiction goes, it’s not too far-fetched.
“We’re in the very early stages of commercial, nongovernmental use of facial recognition and we shouldn’t be waiting until harms occur to do something, we should be acting now to mitigate the harms,” Nathan Sheard, a grass-roots advocacy organizer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the news outlet.
Facial data also is coming under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission—which earlier this month launched a review of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a 1998 law that requires children’s websites to obtain parental consent before collecting, using or disclosing a child’s personal information. The FTC now is seeking comment on whether the definition of “personal information” should be expanded to include biometric data.
The makers of facial-recognition software argue that concerns about the technology are overblown because people don’t really understand it. For these companies, facial data isn’t captured and stored as a usable image, but rather as lengthy chains of numbers and letters that can only be deciphered by proprietary software. Developers argue the data would be meaningless to anyone who doesn’t have their model.
“At some point we have to stop and ask ourselves whether the costs to our privacy are no longer outweighed by the benefits,” Sean McGrath, managing editor at ProPrivacy.com, a digital privacy advocacy group, told the Journal, adding,. “With facial recognition, more than any other technology, we’re at one of those watershed moments where we really need to step back and assess the bigger picture.”
Julie Jargon, a tech writer for The Wall Street Journal advises parents to ask the following questions before consenting to facial recognition for their children:
- Where will my child’s facial data be stored and for how long?
- Will the data be shared with third parties and, if so, what are their policies for storing and sharing the data?
- Are there purposes for the data other than what’s being advertised? For example, will my child’s facial data be used to train AI for law enforcement or corporate partners?
- What happens to my child’s data if the service provider is sold?
- What happens to the data if I decide I no longer want to use this service? Will it be deleted immediately?
Research contact: @WSJ