Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Biometrics: the good, the bad & the leaks


Anne says: Biometrics is, claims NEC, going to revolutionise the airports and passenger experience. What are biometrics and why is this going to change the world airport experience providing efficiency in managing queues and security issues?

Biometrics will use your identity – not your password – it will use your unique fingerprint, iris scan or facial recognition. In fact, you’re probably using it already to open some of your digital devices. While supporters of the technology claim using fingerprints is already ubiquitous and an easy replacement for remembering passwords, there are also some concerns about the security of the data collected through biometrics.

The Good: What will biometrics do?

It’s being touted as the key to “shaping the seamless passenger experience”, “totally frictionless and verification/authentication using facial biometrics” with “my face is my boarding pass” as a tag line. A number of airlines are trialling a range of biometrics including British Airways, Delta, Lufthansa and airports such as Heathrow, Orlando, Los Angeles, John F. Kennedy New York and Bengaluru International Airport in India. The concept will eventually include the travellers not having to show their ID cards, airline tickets or boarding passes throughout the airport experience. 

The airlines are optimistic about the efficiencies with Orlando airport setting up permanent facial recognition gates and boarding 240 people within 10 minutes. 

The Bad: Trust – the foundation of identity

Trust – an ongoing challenge as we hurtle into unregulated and unchartered possibilities. Washington Airports Authority describe the requirement for all airport stakeholders (regulatory agencies – like Customs and Border Protection, airlines, airport authorities) to develop a trust framework. In principle, they’re referring to the stakeholders sharing data and the trust being referred to is between the stakeholders.

However… there is a critical silent stakeholder as well – the traveller! There is some discussion about the sentiment towards adoption of biometrics and they cite 53% are absolutely for it, 35% would consider it. 

But trust is built on transparency and knowledge, only then can travellers make informed decisions about participating in these programs, particularly in these early experimental stages. The article cites the lack of legislation as a fundamental problem – but I’d argue that transparency regarding the use of data, data security and privacy processes contain the essential issues before legislation can be developed. 

British Airways are adamant that photos taken for facial recognition are never stored on their systems, or their technology partners’! What is currently being discussed is the need for travellers to have the right to refuse the use of biometric identification and the right to use the traditional methods, like a passport. 

The second article in the series discusses the perspective of the suppliers of the technology. It calls out the need for more consideration into the processes and collection versus storage of biometric data, including the use of artificial intelligence to provide further efficiencies. 

The Leaks: What happens when…

As reported in MIT Technology Review, a major leak of biometric data (27.8 million records and 23 gigabytes of data) in the UK has exposed the fingerprints, face recognition data, unencrypted names and passwords, and other personal information when a security company used by the UK government, police, banks, and military was found to have vulnerable databases. What causes the greatest concern in this instance is the nature of the data: 

“…you can change your username and password with a couple of clicks. Your face is forever.”

It is this type of episode that destroys any trust framework put together by stakeholders. When the third party supplier cannot guarantee their systems and processes have adequate security, we need to rethink how biometrics will be part of our future daily lives. 

The biometrics approach to digital identity is in very early adoption stages. Perhaps the tech companies need to turn their attention to security and privacy of data collected before we move to the next stage of widespread usage. 

And a final word: You have the right, as a traveller, to request an alternative method of identification (like the passport), you don’t have to use the biometric channels.


How much school surveillance is too much?


Helen says: In Florida, a new surveillance system is being considered to track and monitor school students. The proposal involves state software scanning the web and pulling data from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google+, Flickr, Pinterest and others. It will capture posts and the geolocation of the post based on matching keywords relating to guns, bombs, bullying, mental health and ‘other’. This information will be saved in the portal and threat assessed by “programmatical scoring that can help in determining relevancy of each returned record.”

The motivation for this proposal may be well-intentioned and aimed at protecting individuals and the community – given that banning automatic guns doesn’t get any traction in the US, Florida can’t be criticised for posing such suggestions. However, collecting and storing personal and detailed student data based on a broad set of keywords does not sit well with me. Is the data secure? What algorithms are being used and are they free from bias? Who has access to this data? How long is it stored and for how long can it be used? And is it ethical to surveil children in such a manner?

This article is from a series of opinion pieces that have been published in the New York Times about privacy in the digital era. The series, The Privacy Project, explores technology that impacts our privacy, where it is heading and some tips to help protect your privacy. I have found the information both interesting and informative and hope you do too.


Star laws: what happens if you commit a crime in space?


Joel says: Earlier this week, a lot of conversation started to emerge online about ‘space laws’ when an astronaut was accused of the first ‘space crime’ after allegedly accessing her partner’s bank account from within the International Space Station.

While the solution in this case is fairly straight forward because it took place on the ISS, it has prompted a lot of discussion around what happens if you commit a crime in space?

Because the ISS is a joint project with the US, Canada, Japan, Russia and a number of European countries it has an existing legal framework that states the people on board are the responsibility of their country of origin. But outside of that ‘space’, like the high-seas, is considered res communis meaning it belongs to no one and no country can claim it.

With the human activity in space beginning to rise thanks to things like private space tourism, space militarisation and commercial activity the recent space crime article has had people questioning if the current space treaties that govern space activity are up to date and ready to deal with potential space crimes committed by private visitors or if they can clearly state where space even begins.

This was a good piece to piggyback off my article from last week talking about whether Australian law can keep up with advancements in AI. If space is going to be commercialised as expected this is definitely something that will need to be looked into at some point.


The transhumanists who want to live forever


Jakkii says: The first time I heard the term ‘Transhumanism’ was when Nat wrote about the concept in our Friday Faves back in April 2017, and again in September that same year. It’s a fascinating concept:

Transhumanism: the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.

As a philosophical movement, both the technological and existential elements of transhumanism were fascinating to Nat, and I encourage you to go back and read her far more eloquent – and philosophical – thoughts on the articles she shared in 2017.

As soon as I saw the title of this piece, I had to share it for my contribution this week, on Nat’s behalf as much as my own. The piece this week explores the desire for longevity of life – of existence – amongst the transhumanists the author interviews, and the scientific and technological avenues they hope may prevent ageing once and for all. It’s a lot to reflect on to be honest, and while removing ageing isn’t necessarily the same thing as creating immortality (for example, perhaps we could live to 150 without experiencing the detrimental effects of ageing, rather than “live forever”), it still poses a huge question – if you could live forever, would you even want to? What does existence mean, if it always is? If you’ve ever watched the show The Good Place, you might remember that familiar dilemma as it was explored in the season 2 episode “Existential Crisis” (and if you’ve never watched the show, I recommend it!). 

And, of course, medical and technological interventions to prevent or hinder ageing come with a whole set of other questions. Population sizes, economic impacts, jobs and purpose – and, importantly, ethics. What are the ethical considerations in the development and application of any such technologies? What is the balance between individual desire, individual good, and collective good? If we could live forever, would we be inherently more benevolent, or inherently more selfish? And how would we derive meaning in our lives? Would we turn even more to work than we already do in the Western world? Or would we turn further from it?

Like I said earlier, it’s a lot to reflect on. Read, reflect, enjoy – and let me know what you think!


This Week in Social Media

Politics, democracy and regulation

Privacy and data

Cybersecurity and safety

Society and culture

Extremism and hate speech

Moderation and misinformation

Marketing, advertising and PR


Facebook’s Libra and Calibra

Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: size matters when there’s scarce abundance, and what the tech? Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week

00:45 – Why is the gap between large and small companies growing?

16:09 – What does it mean to be a tech company?

Other stories we bring up

Our previous discussion of data is not the new oil

Our conversation with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz on the age of inequality

Our previous conversation with Barney Tan on start-ups in China

Why even a salad chain wants to call itself a tech company

Some more tech company definitions

Why every company is a tech company

Why some start-ups are called tech companies and others are not


DISRUPT.SYDNEY™ 2019: Rethinking Success

DISRUPT.SYDNEY, in its seventh year, is Australia’s first and oldest disruption conference.

This year we’re looking at what it means to be successful in a world increasingly concerned with disruption, sustainability, inequality and changing notions of work.

With two Q&A panels, parallel workshops after lunch, and an interactive futures session on deep fakes in the afternoon DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2019 will have plenty of discussion and ideas with which to engage and challenge. Join the discussion on 20 September at the University of Sydney Castlereagh St campus.

For more information and to register

Ask us for our discount code to save on the early bird price – hurry, early bird registrations close Friday, 6 September!

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