A small but face recognition-equipped Detroit roller rink kicked out a Black teen last Saturday after misidentifying her as a person who’d allegedly gotten into a fight there in March. The girl, Lamya Robinson, says that security scanned her face upon entry and barred her from going inside, despite her claim that she’d never entered the building before. Add one more story to a mountain of evidence that face recognition doesn’t work, and it’s a public hazard, particularly to Black people.
As Detroit-based Fox affiliate Fox 2 reported yesterday, Robinson’s parents are thinking about filing a lawsuit against the roller rink. A roller rink with face recognition tech.
Gizmodo has reached out to the roller rink, Riverside Arena, and will update the post if we hear back. In a statement to Fox 2, the rink admitted that they used the technology, claiming that Robinson was a 97% match for the supposed perpetrator. “This is what we looked at, not the thumbnail photos Ms. Robinson took a picture of, if there was a mistake, we apologize for that,” the business said.
Last year, a Detroit police chief admitted that face recognition fails to identify suspects almost every time. As study after study has shown, face recognition exceptionally fails to correctly identify dark-skinned women; a 2018 study by researchers from MIT and Microsoft found that gender-classifying face recognition technology misidentified darker-skinned women at an error rate 34% higher than that of light-skinned men.
Misidentification by the software has permitted police abuse, most famously in the case of Robert Williams, who testified this week before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Police, wrongly believing that he had stolen watches, allegedly abducted him in his yard in front of his family, sent him to jail, and, after a long interrogation, finally admitted that “the computer must have gotten it wrong.”
While law enforcement have reportedly used face recognition to outrageously fudge suspect identification, a small roller rink’s use of the technology to identify teens underscores the pervasiveness of clandestine face recognition tech. “Ban Facial Recognition in Stores,” a recent campaign supported by 35 civil rights and press freedom groups, has published a scorecard of major retailers that have been outed for, or admit to, using the technology. Among them: Lowe’s, Albertson’s, Home Depot, H.E.B Grocery, Macy’s, Ace Hardware, and Apple Stores. (In an email, a Lowe’s spokesperson denies the company uses face recognition technology. “Lowe’s does not collect biometric data or use facial recognition in our stores,” the spokesperson said.)
Several from the above list have facilitated similar situations in which customers were misidentified and wrongly accused of crimes. A Black man recently filed a lawsuit against Apple, alleging that the store security likely used face recognition to misidentify him as a thief, getting him and a second person also believed to be him, baselessly arrested. Another man was wrongfully arrested at a New Mexico Albertsons grocery store. In 2019, three people filed a class-action lawsuit against Lowe’s for allegedly violating their right to biometric data privacy under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.
Companies like Amazon, which offers its Rekognition tech, could “fix” their systems to better identify dark-skinned women. That’s if companies that sell face recognition tools are okay with giving police more opportunities to assault and arrest more people, potentially murder shoppers at a department store, and jail them for severe crimes they didn’t commit.
Update 3 p.m. ET, July 16: Added comment from Lowe’s.