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US is consistent but confused when asked for views on biometrics use

US is consistent but confused when asked for views on biometrics use

New research on Americans’ perception of biometrics use in general looks good for vendors of the technology, but it also shows some profoundly confused thinking about regulating its use.

A Pennsylvania University survey of 4,048 adults spread across demographics and geographic location show that, more than what tool is used, Americans are touchy about who uses the tools.

A majority of people responding to Penn State’s questionnaire accept law enforcement and intelligence agencies surveilling by face, fingerprint, DNA, voice, eye and hand geometry biometrics.

And yet, a majority of respondents did not want governments to use some types of biometrics. Autocratic governments lean heavily on police and spies to keep populations in line.

Respondents were asked about seven use cases, and the majority said they are not comfortable with surveillance-related applications. These include use of biometrics to track movements in retail stores and then inform targeted advertising, customer loyalty programs, ‘reconnection scenarios’ carried out by companies, or surveillance of streets and sidewalks by a homeowners association.

And while 67 percent of a subset of the whole said they were comfortable using their face or fingerprint to unlock their phones, a slight majority of the whole group said they distrust tech companies — which would include phone makers and biometrics firms — with their biometric identifiers.

Just looking at those particular numbers, it would seem that talking points espoused by far-right pundits and politicians are finding increased traction among consumer as well as voters. Distrust from those quarters sewn against vague, emotion-prompting organizations, like “government” and “tech companies” is a common messaging technique.

What is less contradictory, are overall rankings for comfort with specific biometric modalities. Indeed, according to survey authors, the scores showed little fluctuation regardless of demographics, including race and ethnic background, income, education, age, gender — and even political persuasion.

Almost 75 percent were very or somewhat comfortable with fingerprints and 66 percent for voice prints.

Sixty-three percent are at least somewhat accepting of hand geometry, and 61 percent said the same of face scanning. About the same percentage would sign off on eye scans, according to the survey.

Even DNA biometrics, the least understood of them all, found acceptance among 56 percent.

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