News  |    |  August 8, 2019

As summer camps turn on facial recognition, parents demand: More smiles, please

News article by Drew Darwell.
Published by The Washington Post.


When David Hiller’s two daughters checked into Camp Echo, a bucolic sleep-away camp in Upstate New York, they relinquished their cellphones for seven idyllic weeks away from their digital lives. But not Hiller: His phone rings 10 times a day with notifications from the summer camp’s facial-recognition service, which alerts him whenever one of his girls is photographed enjoying their newfound independence, going water-skiing or making a new friend.

His daughters don’t really know about the facial-recognition part, he said. But for him and his wife, it’s quickly become a cherished summer pastime, alerting them instantly when the camp uploads its for-parents haul of more than 1,000 photos a day — many of which they end up looking through, just in case. “I love it. I wish I was with them,” he said. “But I at least feel like I know what they’re doing.”

Privacy advocates have raised the alarm on facial-recognition software over its ability to quickly identify people from a distance without their knowledge or consent — a power used increasingly by police and federal investigators to track down suspects or witnesses to a crime. San Francisco and other cities banned the surveillance technology’s use by public officials and police earlier this year.

But while that debate rages, the technology has quietly become an accepted, widespread and even celebrated part of Americans’ everyday lives. Used to automatically tag photos on Facebook and unlock people’s iPhones, the systems have fueled a cottage industry of companies offering to secure school entryways, unlock office doors and identify people at public events. [ . . . ]