FTC warns about potential misuse of biometrics, harm to consumers

Facial recognition, fingerprints and iris scans, as the use of ‘biometric information’ becomes more widespread, the FTC is warning about potential harms and misuses of the information.

"In recent years, these technologies have become more advanced and also more commonly used," said Amanda Koulousias, an attorney for the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. "As that has happened, consumers now face new and increasing risks associated with the use of the technologies."

According to the FTC, some of the potential risks include information being used to create "deep fakes" or hackers gaining access to the private information of consumers that companies have. Another risk is companies being able to see a consumer’s location and, therefore, learn sensitive information about them.

"The onus is really on companies who are using these technologies," said Koulousias. "Companies should be assessing foreseeable harms to consumers before they collect their biometric information."

The FTC is trying to ensure companies do their part. In a recent policy statement, the FTC warned about the potential misuses of biometric information that could result in harms to consumers or a violation of the FTC Act. The agency wants companies to be aware of risks and make sure their consumers are properly informed.


"The policy statement makes the point that longstanding legal requirements apply to these technologies as well, so the fact that the technology may be new does not mean that the FTC Act does not apply," said Koulousias.

In certain cases, consumers may have some of the power.

"For example, if consumers are offered the choice about using biometric information in connection with a particular feature or something that a company is offering, consumers can weigh whether the convenience or other benefit that that may offer is worth it in light of the risks if the information is compromised or misused," said Koulousias. "They can also look to see what companies are telling them about whether they'll use that biometric information for any other purpose."

If consumers believe their information has been compromised or privacy – they can submit complaints to the FTC.

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