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Is banning facial recognition missing the point?

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I thought I would step out of my usual shoes this month and talk about something besides cloud computing. People sometimes ask my opinion on technology, as I know a thing or two about it.

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What are your thoughts on facial recognition? Will banning it solve the problem?

If you are not already familiar with Bruce Schneier you should be. He has been the single smartest person talking about data collection for the past twenty years. He wrote Database Nation, Secrets and Lies, and Beyond Fear. His thinking is non-obvious, insightful, deep and almost always spot on.

Here’s what Bruce Schneier has to say about banning facial recognition.

1. There are many ways to skin a cat

If you want to prevent what facial recognition can do, ban it, right? Well, turns out there are many other ways to do the same thing. You can identify people by their heart beat (think fitbit or apple watch), the way they walk, and of course good old fashioned fingerprints. And we leave those everywhere. What else?

Every phone broadcasts it’s ID which is the MAC address of it’s network interface. And if you have cameras without facial recognition, they can still identify using Iris scanning. Yep really.

Read: How do i migrate my skills to the cloud

2. Surveillance as a norm

When we say we don’t want facial recognition, we mean among other things that we don’t want anonymous identifying of people. But it also means we don’t want the later collection and identifying of people either.

Imagine you have a shoebox full of old photos. Photos at a beach, at a wedding, at tourist sites. Now you scan those into your computer, and you can identify all the people in the background. What a strange world we’ve built.

As Schneier points out, the larger question is what surveillance is okay and what is not? We as a society need to design rules and laws to outline how these technologies can and should be used for good, and to prevent their misuse and harm to people.

Related: 5 things toxic to scalability

3. The darkness of data brokering

The further collection of data by these large entities like facebook & google is more frightening still. Not for the data itself, but for it remaining completely unregulated. Government is still very behind what is happening at these giant companies.

Google knows things about your wife & husband that you don’t know. Google knows what the CEO of your competitor company is thinking and doing. Google knows your weaknesses, how and when you break the law. It’s hard to really grasp the scope. Every part of our online lives touches one of these companies. Even if you don’t use their services, you email people who do, and therefore are still known by them.

The laws we’ve built for the last century to prevent these types of abuses are mostly irrelevant to modern internet data companies. And as unregulated entities, they remain adversarial to citizens. We remain the product, not the customer.

Related: Did Disney have to fail?

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Is Apple betting against big data?

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1. Pushing privacy

Apple has been pushing it’s privacy policy of late, in much of it’s marketing around the new iOS 8 and iPhone 6.

In particular Tim Cook takes direct aim at Google’s collection of user data:

“A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.”

Read: Is Fred Wilson wrong about Apple?

2. Weak in cloud

It’s been quoted in various news that Apple is rather “weak” in the cloud. But digging a little deeper, this appears to be a deliberate strategy, a bet against using customer data in ways those end users may grow to resent.

Also: Is the Android ecosystem still broken?

3. The bet against open worked

Recall that Apple has had a fairly closed ecosystem since the beginning. This has kept their AppStore much cleaner, and free of malware. Reference the terrible problems that still plague the Android Play Store, from lack of policing.

Open also works as an iron fist on UI & UX, enforcing a consistency across apps and developers. This is a clear win for consumers and end users, even if they don’t understand the hows, whys and wherefores.

Related: No iPhones were harmed in the creation of this outage

4. Don’t monetize what you store in iCloud

Apple doesn’t directly monetize what is stored in iCloud. That means there’s no business imperative to make *use* of your data. They’re just storing it. This means they can also push encryption, a win for consumers, as it doesn’t bump heads with their business in any way.

Check this: What is mobile scalability & why is it important?

5. iAd has real privacy limits

Apple does have a platform called iAd. But even that has in-built limitations.

“iAd sticks to the same privacy policy that applies to every other Apple product. It doesn’t get data from Health and HomeKit, Maps, Siri, iMessage, your call history, or any iCloud service like Contacts or Mail, and you can always just opt out altogether.”

It’s unclear if all of these moves will help Apple in the marketplace. It remains to be seen if consumers will choose technology based on privacy concerns and fears.

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Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters