As businesses start to reopen amidst the pandemic, they must navigate government mandates and “Duty of Care” concerns. Plans to keep both employees and customers safe often include face mask requirements, pre-screenings and temperature checks. Facial recognition technology is frequently part of the equation, as it can be used to identify elevated temperatures.
A lot of facial recognition technology comes out of China, and the U.S. list of blacklisted Chinese companies continues to grow. Why? The Trump administration cites both the mistreatment of Muslim minorities as well as company ties to weapons of mass destruction and China’s military.
Meanwhile, business is booming at blacklisted companies like AI startup SenseTime Group, whose facial recognition software is widely used to control the spread of COVID.
But what does all of this mean for your business?
What the Blacklist Means
This part is clear: U.S. businesses are not to buy from blacklisted suppliers — unless they have a special license from the government. Consider that even if you don’t enable the facial recognition created by a blacklisted company, the products are detecting faces. And the liability is clear: Trump says you can’t buy it, and if you do you’re breaking the mandate.
In fact, if you’re using a third party product in your business and you can’t prove that it’s not on the blacklist, you may be liable. In this case, ignorance doesn’t absolve you. Will the government actively enforce the blacklist? Hard to say, but you don’t want to be the business that finds out the hard way.
What if your business unknowingly purchased tech from one of the blacklisted companies? This is where things get a bit tricky, as it can be difficult to determine where the tech came from. Even the best intentions may not protect you here. Consider our own experience.
Back in March, InReality was in the same boat as a lot of businesses, trying to figure out how to best respond to the pandemic situation. As a venue analytics company, we were in a good position to provide our platform to help enterprises manage sensors being used for different “Safe Space” screening and management needs.
One of the sensors we got behind does instant temperature checks and, like many of them, had an option for facial recognition. We have a Hong Kong office and knew the manufacturer well, so we did our research, connected with them directly and started asking a lot of questions about the software that they use for facial recognition. Like most these companies, they were tight lipped about the nitty gritty.
And when we got into the SDK to make improvements for the user experience of the device, we quickly realized that we were going to need to find our own US-based resource for this feature. Which we did.
What You Can Do
The truth is, any business out there could have been buying blacklisted products and not know it. Fortunately, there are a few steps that you can take to avoid falling into the facial recognition trap. For starters, you’ve got to get the origin information you need.
Push your manufacturer or your source to get the details. Can’t get a clear answer? Try this workaround. A lot of times, when you create an account and accept the Terms and Conditions for a platform that uses facial recognition, you’ll see a U.S. software partner’s name clearly within the terms. And if you don’t? Dig deeper.
InReality’s Learning Center is committed to sharing important guidance to help the industry navigate the complexities of the ever-evolving Safe Space landscape. The information shared is informed by experience working with many constituents and stakeholders. If you have a topic you would like addressed, please submit it to Laura Davis-Taylor at email@example.com for consideration.