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Biometric technologies and the danger of using emotion analysis


The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is warning organisations to assess the public risks of using emotion analysis technologies before implementing biometric systems.

The ICO has identified the following sectors where it anticipates that biometric technology will have a major impact in the near horizon (two to five years):

The finance and banking sector – is likely to see significant uptake of behavioural and two factor authentication (2FA) biometric technologies for secure transactions. These will build on well-established technologies with clear purpose. For example, enhanced security incorporating behavioural analysis (such as pattern tracking and phone angle) when using in-app banking. Additional Know Your Customer (KYC) approaches are also likely to be introduced, with the use of FRT in shops as a primary or an additional layer of security such as Mastercard’s emerging ‘Payface’ system. Low friction biometric deployments such as FRT can offer faster, hygienic means of payment within shops without physical contact or use of cash. However, this raises concerns about proportionality, fairness and accessibility for those who lack easy access to digital services.

The commercial sector – is likely to see a rapid uptake in the use of technologies such as voice recognition, gait recognition and vasal analysis in centres and staff-less shops. This will improve customer identification as well as home IoT devices. This may go beyond payment systems, to include customer tracking via gait analysis. It may include more complex approaches, such as Bluetooth beacon activated gaze tracking on store shelves in order to monitor where customer interest lies. In turn this will provide personalised offers, as well as aggregated consumer data.

Smarthome IoT devices – may well make increased use of vocal analysis to not only identify users and guests within systems but also offer tailored responses to perceived emotional and behavioural states. Again, all these approaches may offer convenience, but risk a loss of transparency given challenges around providing privacy notices as well as around obtaining consent, when applicable.

Fitness and health sectors – have also been early adopters of biometric technologies and are heavy consumers of biometric data. The next few years are likely to see an increase in the types of data that can be potentially gathered and shared, such as ambient light analysis for blood oxygen levels and more detailed ECG analysis. For example, devices such as earphones may become capable of in-ear health checks.

It is also likely that wearable devices as a whole will be able to gather and, if desired, share increasingly granular data with healthcare providers and professionals. This will allow medical care to become further personalised and tailored to peoples’ specific needs. While this offers the opportunity of targeted and cost effective treatment, it also raises the prospect of: complex data sharing; challenges to transparency and the accessibility of data driven decisions; and an increased pressure to re-purpose data for research purposes.

Assistive technology – is another related area of potential development. Assistive devices can offer an indication of how biometric behavioural or emotional analysis may link with augmented reality devices to support disabled people in their daily interactions. However, these approaches also present significant potential risks in terms of accuracy and fairness; the devices and the analytical systems using the biometric data may further embed systemic or active biases, resulting in discrimination.

The entertainment sector – firms have indicated a strong interest in developing novel biometric techniques linked to immersive technologies in the development of a ‘metaverse’. They are likely to continue developing work in and around augmented reality devices, such as glasses and headsets, and in the related area of assistive technology. Other major stakeholders may become involved in this area, but have not yet expressed their interest or intention to do so. In practice, these technologies are likely to draw on a diverse range of biometric modalities to deliver immersive, responsive customer experiences. For example, gaze tracking, GSR analysis, vocal analysis and potentially EEG analysis. Challenges will remain including about transparency of processing, systemic biases and accessibility.

Supporting businesses and organisations at the development stage of biometrics products and services embeds a ‘privacy by design’ approach, thus reducing the risk factors and ensuring organisations are operating safely and lawfully. Organisations that do not act responsibly, posing risks to vulnerable people or fail to meet ICO expectations will be investigated.

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