Mandates are fading, but mask detection technology has made its mark

Mandates are fading, but mask detection technology has made its mark

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as mask mandates became rife among public and private individuals, technology vendors began selling products that they said could determine if someone was wearing a mask. Through compelling press releases and demonstrations, suppliers drew the attention of critics who were skeptical about the decision-making capabilities and potential monitoring applications. A market survey related to optimism predicted that by 2027 the market will exceed $1 billion.

With mask mandates being lifted in countries around the world — albeit prematurely, according to some health experts — the dust is starting to melt. While the demand for sensor technology in masks is steadily declining, the products have had far-reaching implications for privacy and security, according to interviews with suppliers.

For example, Trueface CEO Sean Moore says he doesn’t see customers who have already purchased Trueface mask touch technology to reduce its use in the near future. Like many vendors offering mask recognition as a service, Trueface, which was acquired by biometric security firm Pangiam in 2021, grew out of a history of facial recognition. The company began using algorithms in camera images to extract massive amounts of data, including license plate recognition and object recognition, before expanding its focus to biometrics.

“We have started developing mask and facial recognition capabilities. Around April 2020, after the introduction of COVID-19 in the US, about 50% of our customers asked us to update our mask recognition software so that they could understand it programmatically. “Your users will remove the mask,” Moore told TechCrunch via email. “We plan to include Mask Recognition and Mask Recognition as part of our [product] If necessary again.”

As regular readers of this site know, facial recognition is up for debate. While companies like Trueface say they will only deal with “responsible” implementation of the technology, recent history is littered with examples of personal abuse, such as Huawei and other software designed to identify members of a Uyghur minority group. Numerous studies, including the Gender Shadows project, have also shown that facial recognition technologies are prone to a variety of biases, including gender, race, and ethnic biases. Police arrested several black suspects who had been illegally arrested, based on facial recognition evidence.

Trueface declined to name which users are currently using its facial recognition and masking products, but the company had previously won a US Air Force contract to “ensure access and security to the base.”

Motorola Solutions, another vendor that began offering mask detection products during the pandemic, says any customer who has purchased their Avigilon Control Center 7 (ACC7) video management software and hardware will still have access to its detection technology. (The ACC7 is operated by Avigilon, a Canadian surveillance camera company acquired by Motorola Solutions in March 2018.) US police stations and housing authorities.

†[Our] “No Face Mask Detection technology is a video-based detection technology that can detect objects in the camera’s field of view, classify them as human and determine whether the subject is wearing a mask,” said Elizabeth Scuba, spokeswoman. From Motorola Solutions. He told TechCrunch via email. “In addition to alerts to security officers, users can create company-wide reports with statistical analysis over time to help employers troubleshoot issues… For now, the feature will remain available for users to view.” Turn it off or keep using it as you wish. †

Like Motorola Solutions, Rhombus Systems, a security systems provider based in Sacramento, California, began enabling facial mask recognition as part of its standard platform several months ago (January 2021). Companies can use it to receive push notifications or emails when the system detects that someone is not wearing a mask, TechCrunch chief executive Garrett Larson said in an email.

“We know we have some users using it, but it never became a common feature,” Larson said in an email. “We have no immediate plans to cancel the role, but this is something we are constantly monitoring to see if mask mandates will return.”

In a press release released last October, Rhombus said it counts school districts, healthcare providers, city governments and the Fortune 500 among its customers.

Alert features like those from Motorola Solutions and Rhombus are worrying privacy experts who fear the technology will regulate a higher level of surveillance, allowing managers to punish vulnerable employees. Amazon uses benchmark algorithms to test the productivity of warehouse workers at the grain level, accusing them of spending too much time sorting barcodes or sorting products into containers.

Coincidentally, Amazon caused quite the stir a year ago over a technology called Distance Assistant, which the company developed to monitor warehouse workers’ compliance with social distancing rules. Remote Assistant is still available for use by Amazon warehouse managers, but is no longer needed, Barbara Agrit, a spokeswoman for TechCrunch, said in an email containing new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other providers, such as Tryolabs, based in Montevideo, Uruguay, have used this type of technology in more public places, including brick-and-mortar stores. Artificial intelligence consultancy Tryolabs has developed a mask discovery product called MaskCam, which produces real-time statistics on mask usage. Co-founder and COO Ernesto Rodriguez says interest has waned since the early days of the pandemic, but MaskCam was once created at the Bozeman Montana Airport in Belgrade, Montana, to count people leaving and determine the percentage of people leaving. † Mask.

“As interest in this particular solution wanes, Tryolabs continues to focus on solving other problems based on the same core technologies. The models and technologies developed for this particular solution can be applied to other applications,” Rodriguez told TechCrunch via email. “The same libraries can be used and adapted for other visual AI solutions, such as retailers to count the number of people entering and exiting physical stores, or for predictable technical scenarios in logistics and supply chain.”

Mission enhancement is one of the defining themes of the pandemic when it comes to the tech industry, as evidenced by the sale of face temperature kiosks of questionable effectiveness (not to mention location tracking apps). If it wasn’t clear before, it turns out in retrospect that the discovery of the mask was a Trojan horse for more problematic technologies, including surveillance technologies, in the workplace and elsewhere.

As the American Civil Liberties Union notes, “Excessive efforts to contain and monitor COVID-19 leave the door open to a permanent surveillance device that will not disintegrate once emergency fuel rises. The consequences of a century-long pandemic.

The need to reveal a face mask, if it ever existed, will eventually disappear. But consumers who have bought the technology may be inclined to keep it for less ethical purposes.