Four Things Real Estate Agents Need to Know About Facial Recognition

 March 01, 2023

Facial recognition technology (FRT) is a type of biometric security based on a person’s physical characteristics that acts like a fingerprint or password alternative.

Today, the most known use of FRT is on smartphones to unlock screens or sign in to our favorite apps.

However, FRT is becoming commonplace — from the U.S. government using it to expedite travelers through customs, to law enforcement agencies using it to identify nefarious criminals.

And real estate agents can expect to encounter more uses of FRT that will impact their business or clients.

Among the uses of FRT already in place and expected to increase within the next few years is providing access into buildings, ATM transactions and airport security clearance.

Newer uses include targeted advertising: if you don’t buy those Jimmy Choo shoes you were looking at in a store, ads will follow you online. Can you imagine if open house attendees had the same experience: visiting your listing and seeing ads for that listing when the attendees go online?

Retailers could use FRT for purchases, directly charging your account without you ever opening your wallet or purse. Pepper, a Softbank humanoid robot, already uses FRT to help assess a person’s emotional state to provide an empathetic engagement.

If you think the growing use of FRT is a little creepy or too “Big Brother,” you are not alone. Many technology experts warn that facial recognition is one of the biggest threats to personal privacy.

The pros: FRT can be an effective tool for catching criminals and making sure we are who we say we are. The cons: FRT invades our privacy, can be unreliable and biased — and at worst, result in wrongful arrests.

Many U.S. cities are banning the widespread use of facial recognition. For example, in 2019, California banned police from using facial recognition on bodycams. However, that ban is set to expire. And with the crime rate rising, civil liberty groups are having a more challenging time lobbying for outright bans.

As it becomes more commonplace, here are four things real estate agents need to know about FRT.

1. FRT doesn’t always work

New research from MIT suggests that while the new software is getting more accurate, it doesn’t always correctly recognize women and people of color. The study, by Joy Buolamwini of the MIT Media Lab, found that FRT is correct 99% of the time when detecting white males. However, less than half are as accurate when identifying darker-skinned females.

What people don’t realize, Buolamwini points out, is that when FRT first reported an accuracy rate of over 97% in 2014, the dataset was 77% male and 83% white. As a result, FRT still needs more accuracy improvements.

Police agencies report that facial recognition software is often ineffective, with lower-quality images captured by most video-recording systems.
For example, a detective from Aberdeen, North Carolina, told that FRT software “worked with good quality images taken directly from Facebook,” but found “that unless the image quality was great (unlike 90% of video surveillance we obtain), results came back inconclusive.”

Yet about one in six police agencies — more than 3,000 — use Clearview AI and its facial recognition software, according to The Washington Post.

2. FRT can prevent fraud

Facial recognition helps prevent fraud by verifying that a given person is who they claim to be — particularly when trying to access a system, transfer funds or make a purchase.

Verification company provides FRT to federal agencies and 30 states. A growing use of’s FRT is verifying people filing unemployment insurance claims.

For real estate agents, safety software Real Safe offers a feature that uses a driver’s license and a selfie to verify a person’s identity before the agent schedules a home showing. As a result, agents can know with greater certainty that someone is who they say they are.

3. FRT can help prevent identity theft

FRT can stop cybercriminals in their tracks. Identity theft was the top type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission last year, with more than 1.4 million complaints. Almost one in four fraud complaints is for identity theft.

Cybercriminals must accumulate personal information to impersonate their victim. Online, it can be easy for these criminals to access a person’s private information, and a growing trend to protect consumer accounts from identity theft is using FRT.

Like a safe, passwords can be cracked, but copying another person’s facial patterns is a different story. It is why biometrics is gaining traction in almost every industry. For example, someone with your ATM card and PIN can drain money from your bank account. But if an ATM uses facial recognition, the card and the PIN are worthless.

Can you imagine what would happen if everyone accessing a financial account had to take a live selfie for online access? Then, we would be able to reduce cybercriminal activity significantly.

4. FRT faces privacy issues

The flipside of FRT’s rapid growth and innovative use is personal privacy. While FRT can help law enforcement catch criminals and lock them up faster, the trade-off is the potential infringement of individual rights.

Often people don’t know where, when and how FRT is being used until it is abused. The movement of marrying artificial intelligence (AI) with facial recognition software has become so controversial that Microsoft announced it is ending FRT AI tools because of the potential for abuse, including racial profiling.

FRT can violate your personal privacy because it does not have your consent. For example, using FRT for surveillance can track people as they move around a neighborhood or city. But who has access to that information? And what is its use?

The U.S. is not alone in the privacy challenges that FRT is raising. The UK’s ITPro technology publication reports that there is greater scrutiny of law enforcement’s use of facial recognition. Providers like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM are halting the development and sale of FRT for law enforcement. And the UK courts have ruled it unlawful.

Friend or foe?

As you can see, the pros and cons of FRT are striking, with both sides offering compelling arguments for and against using FRT. One area emerging, as a result, is regulation.

Like many new tech innovations, they are often introduced well before regulations are in place to address their potential negative impacts. The same is true with FRT.

Now, U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Yvette Clarke (D-Mass.) have introduced The Facial Recognition Act.

As reported by Lawfare, the new bill would put new limits on law enforcement FRT for surveillance. In addition, the legislation addresses the risks of FRT when it doesn’t work well, including wrongful arrests and algorithmic bias.

The best thing real estate agents can do — as new technology emerges — is to stay informed.

This article is from the Tech Helpline at and has been reprinted with permission. 

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