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New laws: what businesses can and can’t do with facial recognition

With new apps coming out, businesses are left to decide what they will or will not invest in, one of which may be facial recognition tools to connect visitors with retail coupons and the like – is it a good investment? Are laws changing?

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Changing technology laws

Because of the quickly changing nature of technology, appropriate and relevant laws regulating use of new technology is often behind by many years. Sometimes during the gap, the technology is abused because there are no laws restricting it. In theory, it has free reign until the government catches up and makes some guidelines. When it comes to facial recognition technology and its use in business, the FTC is doing what it can to squash potential privacy issues before they become big problems.

In August of this year, we profiled a business idea that encouraged the use of facial recognition software, also called a facial check-in, in order to reward loyal customers with coupons and discounts as soon as they walk into an establishment, all through just having a facial recognition camera at the entrance. But this idea is completely opt-in, meaning that no one’s face would be recognized unless they first gave permission. But this idea for facial recognition technology has since been used in more common forums—Facebook.

Facebook has used facial recognition for some time

If you’re a Facebook user, you may have noticed that Facebook uses this technology, too—in your uploaded photos. If there was a photo you didn’t tag and Facebook recognizes the image as a face, it will prompt you to tag someone. But it also goes one step further. Sometimes Facebook recognizes who is in the picture and suggests you tag them by name, all through facial recognition technology. Needless to say, it is a little on the creepy side when used this way. Facebook users currently have no way to opt-in or opt-out of facial detection. In the past, Facebook has said that users are naturally resistant to change, and by allowing them to opt-out of something will limit the creative process and creative advancements.

Anticipating the need for regulation, the FTC decided to create some guidelines for the use of facial recognition. Remember, these aren’t laws, merely guidelines. The most important guideline is that users must give “affirmative express consent” before their facial details and information are taken and stored. This is all to protect a person’s privacy. Another guideline is that all businesses should clearly post a sign when facial recognition software is in use. This essentially allows the masses to opt-out by not going into the store or business. The third guideline is that anyone whose face and information were stored should have the right to have all photos and information of them deleted in their entirety.

The FTC’s new report

In the 21-page report, the FTC details a few possible negative situations involving the expansion and accessibility of facial recognition software. The FTC projected that one day there might be an app that will identify every person walking down the street, based on their social networking usage and their patronage to businesses that use this technology. A man could take a picture of a woman walking down the street—without her even knowing it—and he could possibly find out her name, age, or even her address. This type of situation is obviously one of the FTC’s biggest fears—the abuse of this new technology and how it will affect the privacy and safety of the public.

Facial recognition technology is still in its infancy. And chances are we’re going to hear a lot more about it in the coming months and years. Companies that don’t allow their patrons or users to opt-in or out potentially put them at risk. And for those who prefer to maintain a distinction between their online lives and their personal lives, this technology can be worrisome. If all companies followed the new guidelines set up by the FTC, most would feel a little more comfortable with facial recognition advancements.

The American Genius Staff Writer: Charlene Jimenez earned her Master's Degree in Arts and Culture with a Creative Writing concentration from the University of Denver after earning her Bachelor's Degree in English from Brigham Young University in Idaho. Jimenez's column is dedicated to business and technology tips, trends and best practices for entrepreneurs and small business professionals.

Business News

Pier 1 couldn’t weather the storm so they’re shutting all ports for good

(BUSINESS NEWS) Pier 1 was already on the verge of closing last year, and if we know anything about 2020, I think you know where I’m going with this.

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As the world keeps turning and we adjust to our new normal here in the ol’ US of A, we are beginning to see what the new shopping skyline will be like, and it will be missing some well-known high rises.

Pier 1, the noted home décor retailer, has announced that they have received approvals to shut down and liquidate all retail operations in its ~550 remaining stores as well as its e-commerce operations.

In the last few years, the company has seen a decline in their market due to heavy hitters like Target and Walmart as well as online competitors. The company which had reached up to 1000 stores had been forced to strip down to half that.

In February of this year Pier 1 filed for bankruptcy protection while it attempted to find a buyer for its remaining assets. The ultimate plan to keep the company afloat was unfortunately doomed to failure. The coup de grace occurred during the global pandemic. Pier 1, just like thousands of stores across the country, was forced to shut down all of their stores. But their main competitors were able to keep the doors open, and taking advantage of the “essential” aspects of their grocery items.

With buyers hesitating to jump into the deep end during COVID-19 the CEO & CFO Robert Riesback announced that “ultimately, due to the combination of a challenging retail environment and the new reality and uncertainty of a post-COVID world, the company and its advisers determined that an orderly wind-down is the best way to maximize the value of Pier 1’s assets”.

With all of these events, their petition to the courts was streamlined, and they asked the federal judge to close the Pier 1 brand “as soon as reasonably possible”. The final plans for the company’s assets are in place, intellectual property and e-commerce business is due to be sold in July, and all store locations to be closed as soon as feasibly possible.

The liquidation sales have already started around the nation. Playing off the need for change that most of the quarantined are experiencing, the company is hitting ~$20M in sales per week as people are reaching for those items that they may never see again. While it may be the last stand it’s definitely going out with a bang. After 58 years on the market Pier 1 is leaving behind a unique view point, and will most definitely not be going into the grave alone.

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Reopening the nation: Best done by sector or calendar?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Analysis suggests reopening economies in phases in each country. How will we find harmony between economic, epidemiological, and political leaders?

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After months indoors Americans are eager to reopen the economy. The United States has experimented with a series of stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and quarantines (the difference between these strategies being geographical and frankly, not always clear). However, the movement to stay home started with closed borders and reduced travel, and gradually became more restrictive as America fell in step behind other countries just in time to become the world’s hotspot for coronavirus infections.

After fraught disagreement between economists, scientists, and politicians, only a few things are certain to date: the economy has collapsed, 30 million people have lost jobs, more than 1.6 million people have been infected, and nearly 100,000 people have died as of this writing.*

Conversations have shifted from saving lives to saving both lives and livelihoods. Economists are making the case that a contracted economy magnifies health risks, and therefore potential mortality unrelated to or complementary to COVID-19 deaths. As such, it is time to consider various strategies for reopening the economy as a public health strategy not independent of hygienic and other measures.

Seven mostly friendly-looking suited-up white dudes from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland have analyzed a series of reopening strategies for the world to consider at this confusing, scary, and still uncertain juncture of how to proceed with defibrillating closed economies worldwide.

They concluded that a phased reopening by sector would balance the need to stimulate economic activity while minimizing epidemiological risk. They suggest that the order of sectors to reopen in each country should be chosen based on their inability to conduct core business from home, importance to the national economy, value added per worker, and business viability. You can read their full argument and the other strategies they evaluated here.

“This strategy has the virtue of being adaptive — as data is gathered following each sector-wide reopening, adjustments can be made concerning the timing of subsequent phases, and protective measures adopted in previously released sectors can be copied and improved as more is learned about the epidemic,” the team said.

The United States has already begun a regional reopening approach where Trump conceded that the states would determine their own reopening plans in phases. This strategy has already caused tension between states and municipalities (for example as between the large state of Texas and its highly populated capitol Austin).

Though the HBR argument is compelling, again, we find ourselves at a frustrating clash of experts in their fields. No matter how the economy is reopened, an increase in infections is likely if not inevitable as soon as more people return to a high-contact lifestyle – a point that scientists and epidemiologists have emphasized heavily. It also gives no mention of the role of testing and tracking the spread of the disease, and the path to population-level immunity whether by herd or vaccine.

Furthermore, this economic approach appears not to consider complementary supply chains and the interconnectedness of local, national, and global economies. Limiting travel was a key factor in slowing the spread and allowing control to become more localized, but much of the economy relies on the movement of people and things across communities.

Unfortunately, these decisions are ultimately made at the policy level. The United States government has proven itself incapable of a united approach to stemming the severity of this disease. Vaccines are in development, but it seems likely that when one is selected and approved for mass distribution, the decision will also be a political one. All of these considerations are ones Americans should bring to the ballot box in November. Or rather – to the mailbox with an absentee ballot, if we don’t manage to completely destroy our democracy between now and then.

*Such statistics, though widely cited, may be underreported or misrepresentative of the whole picture, as we learned about artificially deflated test rates in Texas last week.

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Business News

Survey indicates that small businesses are optimistic despite COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Facebook survey captures tumult of spring 2020 on small and medium business, with a dash of optimism going into the summer.

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This story contains information that probably will not evoke shock and awe by now, but is nonetheless upsetting. Stop now and check to see if you need a news cycle break before ingesting more garbage depressive news about the economy – but if you can wade through it, I promise it ends on a high note!

Though Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is running amuck in the political world like one of those signs at restaurants that say “unattended children will be given ice cream and a puppy,” Facebook continues to effectively build an online community of more than 2.6 billion people worldwide – including more than half of the population in the United States. Given their audience and ease of access to business owners, they decided to use their powers for good for once to survey small and medium businesses.

The survey returned responses from 38,078 business owners and managers, 39,104 employees, and 8,694 personal enterprises in the United States (total of 85,876 respondents). Respondents’ industries spanned manufacturing, retail, services, logistics, hospitality, construction, and agriculture. Thirty-three percent of businesses were urban, forty-two percent were urban, and twenty-five percent were rural.

Here’s where it gets depressing: thirty-one percent of businesses reported closing in the last three months, with 71 percent of those closing since March 1. For personal businesses, 52 percent are closed. Of those businesses still operating, 60 percent reported a reduced workload, and 60 percent also report struggling with finances. Employee wages, bills, and rent were the top areas of financial concern.

So how is this important segment of the economy surviving the crisis? Forty-one percent of business owners and managers said they could pull from personal savings, but 45 percent said zero-interest loans were the most helpful option to subsidize lost business.

Unsurprisingly, 79% of businesses say they have made some change to operations to accommodate their customers and keep things moving, like using digital tools and delivery services.

The survey found some interesting geographical differences, for example, that businesses in the Southeast have made slightly more physical adjustments to business like offering curbside pickup and home delivery. They also found differences in strategy by leadership gender: “Businesses led by women are more likely to be using digital tools, particularly with online advertising (43%) and digital payment tools (40%), compared to just 37% and 34%, respectively, of businesses led by men.” And the differences don’t stop at the strategic level. More women owner-managers (33%) reported that managing life in a pandemic at home was affecting their ability to focus on work than men (25%).

Amongst all the chaos, people are optimistic about the future. In fact, 57% of owner-managers are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future of business. For employees, the results were surprisingly similar. Even though only 45% of SMB owner-managers and 32% of personal businesses reported that they would rehire the same workers when their businesses reopened, 59% of both the employed and unemployed were at least somewhat optimistic about their future employment.

And now for a quote from President Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire Primary speech amidst our last recession, without a smidge of tacky irony or liberal preaching: “We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we’ve been told we’re not ready, or that we shouldn’t try, or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: ‘Yes we can.’”

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