Alfi facial recognition advertising system criticised as intrusive

Occurred: 2021

A plan by digital marketing company Alfi to run digital tablets equipped with facial recognition in 10,000 Uber and Lyft cabs in the US was sharply criticised as overly intrusive.

Alfi uses AI and computer vision to understand facial cues and perceptual details and matches relevant advertising or content based on the viewer’s profile. The system analyses passengers' reactions to advertising and other content, sending information back to advertisers.

The firm said its software was designed to show ads to people based on their age, gender and ethnicity without specifically identifying any individual. It also claimed it was compliant with relevant privacy regulations and did not collect personal information

However, critics argued that the system’s ability to analyse “small facial cues” could potentially be used to collect more detailed personal information. According to Bloomberg, Alfi also planned to sell user data, including retina tracking, keyword recognition, voice intonation, and demographics.

The move prompted a written request (pdf) for information from US senators Amy Klobuchar and Richard Blumenthal, who claimed the programme raises 'serious concerns about privacy for your passengers.' 

Operator: Uber; Lyft
Developer: Alfi
Country: USA
Sector: Transport/logistics
Purpose: Sell advertising
Technology: Computer vision; Facial detection
Issue: Privacy
Transparency: Governance; Privacy

Legal, regulatory 👩🏼‍⚖️

Page info
Type: Issue
Published: October 2021
Last updated: January 2023