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4 Ways to Make Facial Recognition Access Control Work in Your Building

Facial recognition is a technology that many people love to hate. Many in the general public have become accustomed to using facial recognition in everyday consumer devices, like the iPhone’s Face ID. And not everyone is afraid of the ‘Big Brother’ privacy implications of facial recognition. But, biometric tech still faces opposition and controversy in many cases, even in real estate.

In the real estate industry, facial recognition can be used for access control and other security purposes, similar to how it is used in airports and sports stadiums to beef up safety and protect from crime and terrorist attacks. Facial recognition can alert security services at a commercial property to the presence of certain high-risk people. For retailers, they can use it to identify known shoplifters or anonymously track the movements of individuals in stores for marketing purposes, adding a new layer to their foot traffic data collection.

The drawbacks of facial recognition tech are well-documented, including threats to personal freedoms. Being recorded and scanned can make people feel like they’re constantly being watched and judged. There are also concerns about storing facial recognition data, as the databases always have the potential to be breached. Hackers have previously breached databases containing facial scans collected and used by police departments and banks.

Facial recognition access control still has its upsides, though. The tech is non-contact and touchless, essential advantages in a post-COVID workplace. The most advanced facial recognition technologies are also faster and more accurate than ever. Unlike physical access control credentials, facial recognition eliminates the manual tasks associated with issuing and re-issuing physical credentials.

It’s admittedly difficult to find statistics on how widespread facial recognition access control tech is in real estate today, but there are many anecdotal examples of its growth. For instance, Atlanta-based legal services marketing firm Crisp says it has garnered a 70 percent adoption rate among employees who use facial recognition access control to enter vehicle security gates and their buildings. Workers have the option to use fobs or key cards. 

Mike McMullan, Crisp’s Director of Production, said he primarily relies on facial recognition. “Since we installed facial recognition about a year ago, I’ve only used my key fob six or seven times,” McMullan said. “Once it recognizes the face, it triggers the same access function we used when we had key-card access, sending a relay that goes all the way back to our control board for our access control system. So, when installing it, we didn’t have to do much else to get it up and running.”

Facial recognition access control may be controversial, and many employees may object to it, but it’s still possible to make it work in many commercial buildings. Here are 4 ways to do it:

Address privacy concerns

Some of the most prominent privacy concerns around facial recognition are data storage practices that could expose the data to hacks and security threats. Many organizations continue to host facial data on local servers, which leads to security vulnerabilities. Landlords and occupiers can ensure maximum data security with facial recognition tech when hosting the platform on the cloud. Proper encryption can guarantee data integrity. Landlords must ensure IT cybersecurity staff works on the issue, improving accountability and preventing malicious traffic that may be out to steal the image data.

Informing tenants about the cybersecurity measures being taken to secure image data will put their minds at rest. Landlords should obtain informed, written consent from employees and tenants before including their biometric data in a database, and give them the right to access, edit, or delete their facial information. The American Civil Liberties Union also recommends having dedicated security professionals host, manage, and secure facial recognition data. And lastly, set out clearly defined policies for the use of data.

Give employees choices

Despite some concerns, not all Americans are against facial recognition technology. Fifty-nine percent of Americans generally approve of facial recognition tech, and 68 percent say it can make society safer, according to a survey commissioned by the Security Industry Association. Still, some people feel distressed at the thought of facial recognition, so landlords and corporate occupiers should never force it upon them.

If you’re planning on rolling out the tech, provide a traditional alternative for the people who object to facial recognition, such as key fobs and cards. Landlords should get consent when enrolling tenants in facial recognition. That’s a no-brainer. People typically don’t have as much of a problem with facial recognition in consumer products, like iPhone’s FaceID, because they can disable the feature to opt-out of it.

Beyond that, talk to employees and tenants before making any moves toward facial recognition. Find out what tenants and employees really want, how comfortable they are with the tech, and which access control tech they think would be the best and most convenient. For example, Silverstein Properties considered facial recognition when improving access control at some of its properties. Since too many tenants and employees were uncomfortable with facial recognition and biometric access control, the company ultimately chose access control via Apple Wallet on mobile devices.

Beware of the ‘spoof’

Facial recognition tech is very secure, but it’s not foolproof. Fraudsters today have learned methods, often called ‘spoofing,’ to get past the technology. Spoofing allows hackers and bad actors to gain unauthorized access to secure buildings, usually under the guise of a ‘Presentation Attack.’ These attacks occur in two ways, Static 2D or Static 3D attacks. 2D attacks use two-dimensional flat objects like photos or masks, and systems with minimal safeguards are surprisingly susceptible to 2D media. More sophisticated 2D attacks use smartphone screens to flash images that mimic live movement.

Static 3D attacks go further, as fraudsters use 3D printed masks or facial reproductions. Static 2D attacks are the more common type of facial recognition spoofing due to the tech needed for 3D attacks. But as tech like 3D printing evolves and becomes more widely available, landlords and tenants may need to develop strategies to safeguard against both types of tactics.

Landlords and occupiers who deploy facial recognition access control need to consider anti-spoofing measures with the technology. Most anti-spoofing falls under the umbrella of ‘Liveness Detection,’ which determines if a face is alive and real or a false reproduction. It’s possible to do this differently, and one of the simplest methods is eye blink detection. Replicating someone’s unique blinking pattern is almost impossible, even with advanced 3D presentation attacks. Eye blink detection observes patterns like blink intervals, and the average time a person’s eyes stay shut.

Criminals will always find ways to circumvent identity verification mechanisms, so landlords must ensure they have the best anti-spoofing tech available if they switch to facial recognition access control. Solutions to prevent facial recognition spoofing are improving, but no method eliminates the risk entirely. Stay current on the latest anti-fraud tech to avoid a convenient access control system from being compromised.

Lights, camera, action

If landlords plan to install facial recognition access control outdoors, measures to provide proper lighting will need to be taken. Direct sunlight and other forms of light from behind a person can affect the accuracy of facial recognition tech and slow it down. It’s always best to check with the manufacturer on the ideal lighting conditions for the access control tech to work correctly.

More facial recognition access control systems have taken lighting considerations into account. They decrease backlighting, sharpen edges, enhance quality, and reduce image ‘noise’ when performing facial recognition. All of these features speed up the recognition process while increasing accuracy.

Many facial recognition systems today also use 3D as opposed to 2D, which improves accuracy regardless of lighting. The facial recognition field began with 2D systems that operated successfully as long as the captured images had a similar pose, lighting, expression, and distance from the camera. Three-dimensional systems use the unique facial structure captured from multiple angles. Because the human facial structure isn’t affected by changes in lighting or expression, 3D facial recognition has offered much-improved accuracy.

Lighting isn’t the only concern, though. Landlords and occupiers should also consider ambient temperatures for systems that will be outdoors. Installing these devices outside exposes them to outdoor temperatures that could lead to malfunctions. If you must place your facial recognition system outside, be sure to choose a stable and reliable product designed for use in higher temperatures compared to ones intended only for indoor use.

Facial recognition access control is gaining popularity to protect tenants and commercial properties. For some tenants, it’s a first-class amenity and technology that provides contactless check-in procedures and increased control over safety and security. The frictionless experience of facial recognition is also a valued feature in a workplace and world still dealing with COVID.

There are drawbacks to facial recognition technology, for sure, and not all residents and tenants will be comfortable with it. But if you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decide to use the tech, there are several ways facial recognition can be advantageous to commercial building management. Many people love to hate facial recognition technology, but its Big Brother implications of it don’t spook everyone. And if so many people worldwide log onto their iPhones using their faces, that must say something about the viability of the tech.

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