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Patients not anti-face biometrics, but won’t tolerate privacy missteps — research

Patients not anti-face biometrics, but won’t tolerate privacy missteps — research

A U.S. study probing the acceptability of using face biometrics for medical research shows that participants are worried about identification and re-identification.

Facial recognition is applied in a growing number of health care cases, including detecting melanoma, registering pain and tying patients to their records.

A “significant fraction” of the 4,048 subjects surveyed were concerned that their privacy would not be protected if facial imaging and facial recognition data is used in their health care and in health-related research.

Even though such techniques are newer than both digital medical records and DNA databases — both hot-buttons for those sensitive to disclosure of personal information — 55.5 percent already rank their concerns about face biometrics equal to the other two.

Fortunately, that unease did not preclude the use of technologies that require that data, according to the paper, published this month in the journal PLOS One. In fact, most of the respondents were open to the idea of face biometrics used in health care.

The work was done by a large team of researchers from Belgium and multiple academic and private organizations in the United States.

That team recommended all those involved in the technology’s supply chain as well as health and research entities take the results as a warning.

Ambivalence is broad-based. No meaningful differences in responses by gender, ethnicity and race were found.

To assuage present concerns or, at least to avoid fueling more, they said, a “nuanced approach” that is thoughtful and responsive when it comes to data storage and the contexts in which data is used is needed. Missteps and abuses are likely to taint the medical community in general, they said.

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