Facial Recognition


Facial recognition technologies are powerful tools that have come to dominate many applications, often serving as 'gate keepers' for accessing services, social spaces, and security protocols. They are embedded into many societal surveillance programs (private corporation and governmental) without general public knowledge. It is only recently that legal and ethical guidelines are being created about the ways in which they can be used responsibly, how their training datasets are collected and their quality, and the ways in which their biases may be harming some communities or the larger public. Responsible computer scientists and product development teams should be aware of their responsibilities to ensure fairness, accountability, and transparency when creating applications that use facial recognition technologies.

Activity 1 : Complete these tasks before we meet:

Please, answer this short concept check. - approx. 10 minutes

Read a few narratives on the early coverage of facial recognition technologies - approx. 15 minutes

CNN (2010) Why face recognition isn't scary -- yet”

CNBC (2013) How Facial Recognition Technology Could Help Catch Criminals

Watch a clip from Black Mirror - Episode: Nosedive. Where everyone is identified through facial recognition that connects to their 'social score'. -approx. 5 minutes

Activity 2 Meeting Agenda

  • Welcome and Kahoot! Game number:

  • Share results of Kahoot.

  • A very brief history of facial recognition technology, development, and applications.

  • Break in groups 1-5. Read assigned narratives individually (see list below)

  • Groups to talk about their different narratives (10 minutes).

  • Taskforce Activity

Activity 2 Taskforce

As a group, list all of the benefits or negative consequences you can think of if Colby College were to implement a facial recognition system to manage its campus life programs. Think of these potential benefits or harms from the perspectives of students, faculty, administrators, alumni, and parents.

Group 1 Document

Group 2 Document

Things to talk about in your group:

    • What kinds of values and ethical issues were reflected in the narratives that you read in your small group?

    • How did the narratives you read earlier change or shape your feelings about implementing facial recognition in a college/university setting?

    • What recommendations should we provide considering our role of computer science students? What are the resources that are available to us to consider as a part of the expert review process?

For example:

(Hint: see Activity 3 for more of these resources.)

If there is time, take the Kahoot Poll again.

Activity 3: Complete these tasks after we meet

  1. Choose one of the following narratives to read. Ask yourself while you are reading:

    • How do these guidelines reflect current values and concerns we have read/talked about so far?

    • Do they talk about whose responsibility it is to make sure apps using facial recognition technologies are created and used in an ethical manner?

    • What is the motivation (explicit/implicit) for this narrative and who is its target audience?

Amazon’s Guidelines on Facial Recognition Technologies (2020):

Google: Our Approach to Facial Recognition Technologies (2020)


National Telecomm and Information Administration An ethical framework for facial recognition (2020)

The Library of the Future Facial Recognition (2019)

  1. Please complete this short concept check . Yes, it is the same questions as the one you did earlier.

Module Goal and Learning Objectives (for instructors)

The goal of this module is to provide students with an overview of facial recognition technology and and the ethical issues surrounding its use. The module is designed for introductory to intermediate CS courses (i.e., Intro to CS through Algorithms). It follows the CEN format asking students to consider their preexisting ideas and knowledge about the technology (Activity 1), consider the history of who created the technology, its original/intended purpose, the impact of its widespread applications (Activity 2), and reflect on society level impact from multiple perspectives (technology creator, campus community member, person in society) (Activity 3).

  • Students will be able to identify a technology, who designed it, and the purpose it was designed for.

  • Students will be able to identify who the technology was not intended for and who it potentially may harm.

  • Students will be able to articulate how the technology has changed over time and the different purpose it now serves.

  • Students will be able to articulate and discuss possible benefits (such as increased security and ease of identification) and issues (such as harvesting of personal information) with an increase in facial recognition technology.

Activity 1 is an online pre-module assignment asking students to respond to a series of questions about what they know about this technology and viewing provided links to narratives (clip or other media) (note: not all are live links in this document yet).

Activity 2 is a f2f class activity (1.5 hours) that provides a brief history of facial recognition technology and then divides class into two groups (n=~24 or more with larger class/online class) to evaluate the positive and negative impact of facial recognition technology as it would be applied to their college campus community and services. Groups are given specific roles and perspectives to portray as a part of the role play activity. Homework is assigned to provide additional narratives to consider after the class activity. (see slides for class plan)

Activity 3 is an online post-module assignment that asks students to respond again to a series of questions about what they now know about this technology based on the narratives they viewed or read and the Activity 2 discussions.