The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a staff report outlining best practices for the use of facial-recognition technology in online social networks, mobile apps, digital signs, and other products and services. According to an October 22, 2012, FTC press release, facial-recognition technology has “a number of potential uses, such as determining an individual’s age range and gender in order to deliver targeted advertising; assessing viewers’ emotions to see if they are engaged in a video game or a movie; or matching faces and identifying anonymous individuals in images.” But the agency has also expressed concern that these advances could contravene consumers’ expectations of privacy because they hold “the prospect of identifying anonymous individuals in public, and because the data collected may be susceptible to security breaches and hacking.”

FTC is urging companies that use facial-recognition technology to (i) “design their services with consumer privacy in mind”; (ii) “develop reasonable security protections for the information they collect, and sound methods for determining when to keep information and when to dispose of it”; and (iii) “consider the sensitivity of information when developing their facial recognition products and services—for example, digital signs using facial recognition technologies should not be set up in places where children congregate.” The agency has also laid out guidelines for informing consumers about facial– recognition technology as well as some scenarios requiring explicit consent.

“The recommended best practices contained in this report are intended to provide guidance to commercial entities that are using or plan to use facial recognition technologies in their products and services,” concludes the agency. “However, to the extent the recommended best practices go beyond existing legal requirements, they are not intended to serve as a template for law enforcement actions or regulations under laws currently enforced by the FTC. If companies consider the issues of privacy by design, meaningful choice, and transparency at this early stage, it will help ensure that this industry develops in a way that encourages companies to offer innovative new benefits to consumers and respect their privacy interests.”