Facial Recognition at Events: Promises and Pitfalls

facial recognition at events

Your customer walks up to your booth, pauses in front of a camera, and you instantly have their name, company, role, maybe even their favorite brand of breakfast cereal. The digital screens of the booth silently shift gears, and the content becomes tailored to the viewer. You glance down at your handheld and know exactly what questions to answer. After the show, you can reach out directly with a personalized follow-up. Welcome to the near future of trade shows, brought to you by the coming wave of interest in facial recognition at events.

Talking About a Revolution

Proponents of facial recognition laud it as a game-changer that will revolutionize business as we know it. The technology itself is improving, promising instant recognition to anyone who enters your space. Aside from the obvious security benefits, it instantly automates the identification process without the awkwardness of badge scanning, allowing for a streamlined, time-efficient connection. For trade shows, where the goal is face-to-face interaction, the technology could, in theory, improve the experience and breakdown barriers to communication.

Some large-scale users of this technology praise its returns on time management and efficiency. JetBlue recently piloted facial reconigiton to assist in some international boarding at Logan Airport. “Customer response has been overwhelming positive,” says Julia Bryan, head of communication for JetBlue, in an interview with Computerworld. “Self-boarding also saves time for our crew members, who no longer have to do manual passport inspections during the boarding process.”

For trade shows, it’s an innovative, high-tech solution that allows organizers to admit attendees quickly and securely, ensuring maximum time in your booth. It can increase check-in efficiency while reducing the rate of unauthorized entry. You get the right people into your space for as long as possible, upping your ROI and minimizing the hassle for attendees. Everyone is happy.

Facial Recognition at Events: Are We There Yet?

As with any cutting-edge technology, there are still kinks to be worked out with facial recognition tools, and important issues to consider ranging from privacy to price tags.

As Upwork reports, facial recognition technology requires an immense amount of data storage for images. Further, scanning a photo is a processor-intensive task which can be easily thrown if any image less than a full-frontal face view is capture. Forget hats or sunglasses, which can also complicate identification.

There is also a large privacy at stake. The ACLU has recently initiated legal movement to stop the use of widespread facial recognition technology in cities from San Francisco to Boston. Calling it an unprecedented assault on our civil liberties, the ACLU said, “These computer programs are designed to identify and track people at a distance by analyzing images of human faces, without their knowledge or consent.”

The science behind facial recognition technology is at best still being perfected, at worst a liability. Phys.org reports that “a 2016 Georgetown University study found that one in two American adults, or 117 million people, are in facial recognition databases with few rules on how these systems may be accessed.” There is also a built-in bias with a lot of the technology, with the same study finding the algorithms to be 5 to 10 percent less accurate on people of color.

Will We Opt In?

Back in 2014, Carnegie Mellon researcher Alessandro Acquisti posited that while the technology is flawed, it will inevitably improve, not because of technological advancement, but just by continual conglomeration of social media-network metadata. The technology may prove to be the easier nut to crack. As Acquisti told the Atlantic, “Whether as a society we will accept that technology, however, is another story.” While that conglomeration has arrived, it still leaves ethical and legal issues unanswered.

Don’t forget that facial recognition may or may not be GDPR-compliant (General Data Protection Regulation), or CCPA-compliant (California Consumer Privacy Act) in the US. Will your technology even be allowed in the venue? If opting in is required, how many of your visitors will elect to opt out of the technology?

A Better Facial Recognition at Events

While facial recognition tech has some obvious benefits for exhibitors, just make sure it’s right for you, and, more importantly, your clients who may not see the benefit of the technology. Think about your essential goals. Your main concern should be about getting face-to-face interactions, not merely scanning one. After all, someone just setting foot in a trade show or even your booth doesn’t qualify them as a lead. The facial recognition you really want is for your client to recognize yours, and for you to recognize theirs. That connection is the basis of good event marketing, no matter what technology you’re using.

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