Biometric identification technology is continuously being developed and implemented in countless applications — from device security to law enforcement to social media, even advertising and customer experience. Facial recognition hardware and software is expected to grow in market value, while also being perhaps the most controversial form of biometric tech. 

On the one hand, it’s lauded as a powerful tool to protect data and identity for consumers; for example, to authenticate digital payments in the future. On the other, it can be used to exploit just that if not regulated. Facial recognition technology is an entire privacy and surveillance ethics can of worms, and even the most high-profile companies leading development (Amazon, IBM, Microsoft) are treading cautiously. 

Where does public opinion sit today on facial recognition tech? New survey data from CivicScience indicates that most people don’t feel comfortable with the technology and aren’t warming up to it. In fact, Americans have become even more uncomfortable with it than they were this time last year.

Concern Grows Over Consumer Privacy

First, CivicScience tracking shows that concern over consumer privacy in general is on the rise. Most Americans ages 13 and older harbor some level of concern regarding consumer privacy, yet those who feel very concerned grew sharply from 46% in Q4 of 2020 to 55% today (a survey of 9,251 respondents). That’s an almost 20% increase over the past six months. Meanwhile, the number of those who say they are not at all concerned has largely remained the same, at a mere 11%. 

The majority of Americans are now very concerned about consumer privacy. How does that translate to facial recognition adoption? 

Social Media and Other Apps

Social media apps are perhaps the most well-known for consumer use of face identification technology. Considering the push towards using face identification to authenticate payments and other applications, consumer-facing apps (no pun intended) are an important area to watch.

However, more than 80% of respondents are not comfortable with apps even storing an image of their face, let alone using facial recognition technology. In fact, that sentiment has grown over the past year, from 76% to 81%.

Despite this, data show that 56% of those who say they are not at all comfortable with apps storing images are also very active Facebook users — in fact, more than one-third use the app daily. While these users may not embrace Facebook’s technology, which requires identifying photos and using facial recognition , they may not be avoiding  it either.

Smartphones

Many smartphones already come equipped with fingerprint identification, while newer models integrate facial recognition security. This is only expected to become more commonplace in the future.

Data show that use of this technology in mobile devices is more widely accepted than use by social media and other apps. One-third of respondents are comfortable with unlocking their smartphones and mobile devices through face identification. (Apple users are more receptive than Android users.)

Relating to the recent uptick in concerns over consumer privacy, the survey reveals that uneasiness with facial recognition directly correlates. Those who do not feel comfortable with facial recognition on their mobile device are 20% more likely to be very concerned about consumer privacy than to those who feel comfortable with it.

Who Is Comfortable?

Like most new technologies, younger generations are more likely to feel comfortable with facial recognition, and we can assume they’re also more willing to adopt its usage. Gen Z ranks as the most receptive overall to the technology, although more than two-thirds say they are uncomfortable with facial recognition use on social media and apps.

Comfort level also correlates broadly to new tech adoption, including VR, AR, smartwatches, and wearable fitness trackers. 

Those who are fine with facial recognition on their mobile device are more than twice as likely to own a VR headset.

Those who feel comfortable with facial recognition on social media and apps are slightly more likely to have used AR shopping apps, such as Amazon AR View, and they are significantly more likely to plan to use them in the future.

Fear of Being Hacked

Finally, the study shows a concerning trend when it comes to cybersecurity which corresponds nearly perfectly with growing concerns over consumer privacy. The number of respondents who say they are very concerned with their personal data being hacked or stolen from companies they use has spiked from 36% to 42% within the last 6 months.

When it comes to gaining wider adoption of facial recognition use in devices, apps, and other applications, the study shows that the public largely remains wary. It’s something of a Catch 22 situation — facial recognition can offer enhanced security, but requires placing trust in companies to responsibly handle identifying data. However, even though face identification makes most people uncomfortable, those uneasy feelings may not always stand in the way.