Stop Facebook From Buying Your Brain: Facial Recognition, DNA, and Biometric Privacy

Stop Facebook From Buying Your Brain: Facial Recognition, DNA, and Biometric Privacy – Tiffany Li


You might have heard the saying, “Biometrics are usernames, not passwords.” But outside the security world, most people have no idea of the scale of threats we’re all facing with biometric privacy. Governments worldwide are using facial recognition for surveillance, often leading to disastrous consequences in countries without strong human rights protections. Companies, too, are developing more uses for facial recognition, often with a “Move fast and break things” mindset. Voice data, movement data, and more types of biometric data are also now commonly collected by public and private entities. People willingly put photos, videos, and audio of themselves online. They also use apps and consumer tech that collect biometric data. At the same time, deepfake technology is advancing rapidly, and surveillance culture is becoming increasingly pervasive everywhere. Not only are consumers willingly giving up their face data for app discounts, but they’re also giving up their DNA data for questionably accurate genomic analysis. The popularity of DNA testing kits like 23and Me has led to a rise in public and private DNA databases, which come with their own risks, from potential government misuse of data to basic security risks that come with any large-scale collection of sensitive data. The worst possible scenario, of course, is that we create a future where all of these privacy-invasive technologies will succeed and proliferate without laws or technological solutions to stop any of the harms. That’s a world in which we have zero privacy, because your unique and permanent biometric markers are being tracked literally everywhere you go, including, potentially, in your own thoughts. (See. e.g., Facebook’s Reality Labs.) Biometric privacy is one of the less-understood fields of privacy research and discussion. In this talk, I explore the unique biometric privacy risks and harms of these new technologies, and offer some solutions for what we can do to protect biometric privacy now and in the future.


Tiffany C. Li is a tech lawyer and legal scholar. She is a Resident Fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project. Li is an expert on privacy, intellectual property, and tech platform governance. Li’s writing has appeared in the Washington Post, NBC News, Slate, and academic publications. Li has been honored as a Transatlantic Digital Debates Fellow (Global Public Policy Institute/ New America Foundation), a Fellow of Information Privacy (International Association of Privacy Professionals), and an Internet Law and Policy Foundry Fellow (Internet Education Foundation). Li is a licensed attorney and holds CIPP/US, CIPP/E, CIPT, and CIPM certifications. She has a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, where she was a Global Law Scholar, and a B.A. in English from University of California Los Angeles.