How much information is too much?

The research is overwhelmingly clear: consumers want brands to know them, and to anticipate their needs to create an immersive experience that includes their likes and discards their dislikes. They don’t mind handing over information in exchange for a more personalized experience or a better product. And AI seems to be forging a new path in terms of both automating existing processes and elevating experiences. Facial recognition, in particular, stands out as both a security measure and as a way to increase a frictionless experience. But there are significant risks to facial recognition, both in brand perception and in accuracy of the actual software itself, whose quality seems to vary widely depending on who is producing it.

No doubt, AI and facial recognition can have a positive impact on consumer experience, particularly as that experience has almost completely moved online. From Snapchat filters to opening the iPhone X, facial recognition has both fun and practical applications. AI certainly makes databases more searchable and more convenient, and with machine learning, can make relevant recommendations for content that promotes a seamless experience. After all, if brands are supposed to be getting to know you, it makes sense that being able to recognize you, and not just the content you consume is part of that process.

And that’s where things get tricky. Just because you can, does that mean you should? Amazon has faced criticism for selling its facial recognition software to local law enforcement agencies, and researchers have signed a letter asking Amazon to refrain from this practice. The ACLU did a study to prove a point that minority faces had much lower accuracy readings than ethnic majority faces. When running a test on minority members of Congress, they were falsely matched with individuals who had been arrested for a crime. A teenager is currently suing Apple for a billion dollars claiming he was falsely arrested for stealing due to faulty facial recognition software.

An additional wrinkle is that Customs and Border Patrol is due to roll out facial recognition in airports across the country over the next several years, in compliance with stricter immigration policies. It’s worth pointing out that in the current political environment with controversial immigration policies, using facial recognition software could run the risk of making potential consumers feel like targets, rather than making them feel safe and welcome. The general idea of marketing is to make people feel included and to give them a sense of belonging, not alienation and exclusion.

There is a lot of pressure on marketers these days to hurry up and get on the technology train, or risk missing out on whole swaths of potential customers who would otherwise know about your product. But sometimes, restraint (or at least good judgment) may be necessary before implementing a new gadget or platform. Before using technology, ask yourself “does this treat my customer like a person?” A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t use it on your own family, you probably shouldn’t use it on consumers.

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