University of Technology Sydney

Enabling conversations about the ethics of facial recognition technology

We worked with the UTS Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion on an application that the public can interact with to learn about the use and misuse of facial recognition. As the Centre develops a model law on facial recognition, the tool is an innovative way of exploring with the community which additional legal protections we need.

An image of a person accessing the subway network at a turnstile with facial recognition.
  • An engaging and user-friendly interactive application that presents speculative scenarios of facial recognition technology and that is effective in helping to address the broader research aims
  • Polished, high quality and visually compelling design artefacts that foster interest, understanding and awareness
  • Detailed interaction data that illustrate the interactions with the application and anonymised, privacy-protective responses to its outputs to inform follow-up research and synthesis
  • UX and UI design
  • Community engagement
  • Design research

Informing new legal considerations

One-to-many facial recognition compares target images of a face against extensive databases of subjects. In many instances, the comparison results in an outcome, such as controlling access or locating suspects. However, there are no current dedicated laws for facial recognition in Australia, leading to technology usage with little oversight. Primary risks are misuse, where the technology results in people being wrongly identified, and overuse, where we creep towards mass surveillance.

The Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion at UTS is assessing laws relating to facial recognition in Australia and overseas, and how we can improve legal protections. The goal is to create a model law for facial recognition technology in Australia prohibiting harmful activity while encouraging innovation for the public good.

An image of the Face Value application's opening screen. The background shows a human face, with dots on key facial landmarks.
An image of the Face Value application's scenario screen. The image shows a person entering the public transport network via a turnstile. The text underneath the image explains that the scenario will explore a potential future of public transportation.
An image of the Face Value application's camera screen. The image shows a ticketless entry interface for public transport.
An image of the Face Value application. The image suggests that access to the public transport network has been denied based on the facial characteristics of the person attempting to enter.

Face Value: Feedback from the facial recognition algorithms we developed inform a series of simulated scenarios. They show users the potential future of access control and surveillance.


Interactive conversation starters

We developed a suite of interactive applications that demonstrate the technology to experts and the community and collect their opinions to inform the model law.

Each application takes face photos, processes them through a custom facial recognition algorithm, and generates outcomes. While a simulation, they are inspired by how the technology is used in the real world.

Screenshot of the Face Value application. The image shows the assumptions that have been made about the faces of application users, including their gender, ethnicity, age and a range of psychological traits.
The image shows a human face in the background and a list of characteristics assessed by an algorithm about that human face. The characteristics include age, aggressiveness, calmness, ethnicity, gender, introversion, responsibility and trustworthiness, along with values for each.

Social features in the application provide users with a digital souvenir of their participation, as a motivation to continue conversation.

Social features in the application provide users with a digital souvenir of their participation, as a motivation to continue conversation.

Public debate and awareness

The suite of applications we delivered, contained two applications with distinct purposes. One application enables research with experts and the community. It is a vital tool for collecting qualitative data from participants in focus groups.

A second application provides the Centre for Social Justice & Inclusion with a public and interactive demonstration of their research expertise. The application is a playful, educational and social experience that provides participants with a digital souvenir of their visit. It premieres at Vivid Sydney 2022.

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