How facial recognition works

How facial recognition works
You might be good at recognizing faces. You probably find it a cinch to identify the face of a family member, friend, or acquaintance. You’re familiar with their facial features — their eyes, nose, mouth — and how they come together.

That’s how a facial recognition system works, but on a grand, algorithmic scale. Where you see a face, recognition technology sees data. That data can be stored and accessed. For instance, half of all American adults have their images stored in one or more facial-recognition databases that law enforcement agencies can search, according to a Georgetown University study.

So how does facial recognition work? Technologies vary, but here are the basic steps:

Step 1. A picture of your face is captured from a photo or video. Your face might appear alone or in a crowd. Your image may show you looking straight ahead or nearly in profile.

Step 2. Facial recognition software reads the geometry of your face. Key factors include the distance between your eyes and the distance from forehead to chin. The software identifies facial landmarks — one system identifies 68 of them — that are key to distinguishing your face. The result: your facial signature.

Step 3. Your facial signature — a mathematical formula — is compared to a database of known faces.

Step 4. A determination is made. Your faceprint may match that of an image in a facial recognition system database.

In general, that’s how facial recognition works, but who uses it?

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