Not all industries have experienced a decline in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. The tech industry has seen rising profits in the past few months as certain technologies become necessary amid the pandemic. Facial recognition technology, in particular, has undergone some noteworthy improvements recently.

Biometric technologies have been on the rise for some time now. The global biometrics industry was worth more than $21 billion in 2018 and has only grown since then. The COVID-19 outbreak has pushed this technology even further, especially facial recognition.

The changing face of biometrics

The threat of a highly contagious virus has shifted the priorities of the biometrics industry. Before the pandemic, fingerprint readers were the most widely-used biometric technologies. You can see how these might not be ideal during a virus outbreak, though.

A fingerprint scanner could quickly become a severe risk if an infected person used it. The answer to this problem is to use a system that doesn’t require any physical contact. Facial recognition technology offers just that.

The need for contactless biometrics caused a new focus on facial recognition tech. This focus, in turn, has led to advancements in the technology. Facial recognition is now more accurate and versatile than ever before.

Mask-proof facial recognition

Global authorities have urged citizens to wear masks in public to slow the spread of the virus. Masks can hinder traditional facial recognition tech, though, as they hide much of your face. In response, companies across the world developed facial recognition features that can work around masks.

Earlier this year, Chinese tech company Hanvon introduced a system that can recognize users even if they’re wearing a mask. Some iterations of this system also include body temperature-sensing technology to detect if people have fevers. The Chinese government can then use it to track potential COVID-19 carriers.

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The Russian government recently instituted a similar technology. Russian authorities have caught hundreds of people violating quarantine orders using a vast network of security cameras. Like Hanvon’s system, the facial recognition technology in these cameras is effective with face masks.

Foreign authorities aren’t the only ones improving their facial recognition tech, either. Apple’s Face ID feature will be able to recognize mask-wearers with the upcoming iOS 13.5 update. That way, you won’t have to remove your mask to unlock your phone.

Rising privacy concerns

If this news makes you feel uneasy, you’re not alone. While these systems are a definite step forward in technology, they raise a few security concerns. What does it mean for your privacy when the government can easily recognize and track your face?

On the one hand, having to remove your mask for facial recognition can put you at risk. On the other, who’s to say government agencies wouldn’t take this technology too far? The line between public health and the right to privacy begins to blur.

Facial recognition technology may be standard practice in Russia and China, but it’s a controversial subject in the U.S. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued several federal agencies over their use of these systems. With the virus dividing public opinion on similar subjects, it’s unclear how the privacy debate will play out now.

Tech in the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unusual time for the tech industry. The need for safer, more convenient features has led to an impressive slate of advances. At the same time, some of these developments raise some ethical questions.

Here's how tech companies are responding to COVID-19

Recent advances in facial recognition technology are undoubtedly promising for public health. As government bodies start to implement them, though, their dark side becomes apparent. The outcome of this technology, like that of the virus itself, remains uncertain.

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