The risk and reward of biometric technologies

Biometric technologies use an individual’s biological traits to identify them. Digital fingerprint scanners on mobile phones and in airports, or intelligent facial recognition camera systems are examples.

When combined with sophisticated artificial intelligence, biometrics offer a new world of possibilities in human-computer interaction, user experience, healthcare services, security, and efficiency. At the same time, these technologies raise challenging questions about what an ethical society should permit from advertisers, technology providers, and its own government.

Market intelligence and advisory firm Mordor Intelligence indicates that the biometrics market was valued at $27.9 billion in 2020 — and that it could more than double to $62.9 billion by 2026.

Much of this growth is fueled by governments in North America and Europe. However, the greatest level of adoption is being seen in Asia, most notably by China which has made unequalled invasive use of facial recognition technology in public spaces.

There are industries, such as the banking sector, where the use of these technologies has enormous advantages.

Founded on the notion that they can keep the public’s money safe, financial institutions need to be as secure as possible. Consequently, passwords and signatures are gradually being replaced by fingerprint and iris scans, markers that are at least currently more difficult to compromise.

These technologies help ensure that customers are who they say they are, but they can also be used to create an additional layer of security within the bank’s internal infrastructure. For example, guarding access to any computers capable of indexing the bank’s storage for customer data.

Another widespread use case is in border security. Biometric technology is being used in airports more than anywhere else. Fingerprint scans are extremely common, while facial recognition security cameras are becoming more and more prevalent.

Increasing contact with these technologies is beginning to affect public perceptions.

More than half of travelers surveyed would now be comfortable using biometric facial recognition technology at airport boarding gates, according to travel and tourism transaction processor Amadeus. In its Global Travel Survey of 2020, the group indicated that just two in five respondents said that they would be comfortable using the technology for hotel check-ins. 

Public acceptance

In the United States, acceptance of facial recognition technology for security at borders, in airports, and in office buildings is generally high. Equally, a majority see the use of the technology by commercial companies as acceptable.

In Europe, perceptions are a little different. In June this year, the EU’s two privacy watchdogs called for a ban on the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), warned of the extreme risk posed by remote biometric identification of individuals in public areas, Reuters reported.

“The EDPB and the EDPS call for a general ban on any use of AI for automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces, such as recognition of faces, gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes and other biometric or behavioural signals,” the two watchdogs stated in a joint opinion.

Mark Swift is a Scottish freelance journalist and writer based in Paris. His work covers business, technology, European politics, and EU policy. Before writing for 4i-mag, he was a journalist for Young Company Finance Scotland, covering investment in Scottish technology start-ups. Mark's portfolio can be found here: