Security

Consumer Enthusiasm for Biometric Technologies is Fading—Our Research Suggests Several Factors at Play

Feb 21, 2024

The rise of biometric data breaches, cases of mistaken identity, and AI may be contributing to declining trust of biometric technologies.

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Zach CapersSr Specialist Analyst
Consumer Enthusiasm for Biometric Technologies is Fading—Our Research Suggests Several Factors at Play

What we'll cover

We’ve surveyed consumers about their attitudes toward biometric technologies in January 2020, January 2022, and most recently in January 2024. 

Two years ago, our analysis found that comfort with biometric technologies had generally increased as a result of their role in easing many of the challenges caused by the pandemic (e.g., touchless solutions). Now, in 2024, comfort levels have declined precipitously.

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If your business is considering the use of biometric technologies, it’s important to understand that trust of biometric technology is falling overall. This means you need to take a cautious approach with its deployment or risk alienating customers and/or employees.

Key insights

  • Trust in tech companies’ ability to protect biometric data has collapsed—now only 5% of consumers say they highly trust tech companies, as compared to 28% in 2022.

  • Support for use of facial recognition in security scenarios has maintained while other use cases have dropped (use in retail scenarios has fallen from 49% to 25%).

  • A full 85% of consumers say they are concerned about sharing data with AI tools, worries that may be impacting views of biometric technology.

Distrust of tech companies growing after surge of high-profile biometric breaches and violations

While approval of biometric technologies is down across the board, a few drops are especially notable. Trust in tech companies' ability to safeguard biometric data has shrunk dramatically. The percentage of those who say they “highly trust” tech companies with this data dropped from 28% in 2022 to 5% 2024, while the percentage that simply “do not trust” them nearly doubled from 22% to 42%.

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In 2023, it seemed every time biometric technology was in the news, it was for a fine or a data breach—this following a 2022 filled with multi-million dollar fines for companies such as BNSF, TikTok, and Clearview AI. Let’s take a look at just a few of the news stories that made the rounds since our last survey:

  • The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that restaurant chain White Castle must face claims it repeatedly scanned employees’ biometric data without consent, violations that could lead to billions in fines according to Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). [1]

  • Meta agreed to pay $68.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit claiming the company improperly stored biometric data. And this wasn’t the first time—in 2022, Meta paid out $650 million to settle similar claims about its handling of biometric data. [2]

  • Genomics and biotechnology company 23andMe was hacked, and 6.9 million users had their data beached, including DNA-based ancestry reports. [3]

  • The Federal Trade Commision banned retailer Rite Aid from using facial recognition for five years after “falsely tagging consumers, particularly women and people of color, as shoplifters.” [4]

No doubt these and countless other similar news stories over the last couple of years have played a role in shifting consumer attitudes toward biometrics—and it’s likely no coincidence that many of them align closely with our research showing rising worries over data breaches, misuse, privacy, identity theft, and inaccurate results.

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Facial recognition becoming more pervasive—but perhaps not more effective

The aforementioned Rite Aid case is just the latest in the ongoing saga of face recognition’s questionable accuracy. While this piece was being written, another major story broke about a man who was falsely accused of robbing a store after being misidentified by facial recognition. The man, who says he was beaten and sexually assaulted while mistakenly jailed, is suing Macy’s for $10 million. [5]

This unfortunate story is indicative of countless others that tend to disproportionately impact people of color. A Google News search for “facial recognition misidentification” returns page after page of eye opening stories that underscore how pervasive this problem has become in recent years. Our research finds that there is growing sentiment that facial recognition should not be used if it is found to be more accurate for some people relative to others.

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The increasing perception that facial recognition is a far-from-perfect-technology may be part of the reason comfort levels with various applications of the technology have plummeted.

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There remains general support for facial recognition’s practical security applications, such as passport control and device log-in, but other uses are much less popular. Notably, support for facial recognition in retail scenarios fell to only 25%, a nearly 50% drop from 2022. However, when consumers are asked whether they’d accept a biometric payment option if offered by a retailer they regularly do business with, the number rises to 36%.

Rise of AI may be altering views on biometrics

In 2023, another factor was playing out in the background—the explosion of AI into the public consciousness. And although much of AI’s rapid ascent provoked excitement, it also caused concern. A 2023 GetApp survey** found that 85% of consumers are concerned about sharing personal information with generative AI tools—39% are very concerned. What’s more, nearly half (49%) have decided against using an AI tool because they didn’t trust it with their personal information.

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We asked survey respondents to briefly describe their feelings about the increasing use of biometrics technologies in daily life. Over and over again, respondents invoked the rise of AI as an alarming development in relation to biometrics.

“I think with the introduction of AI, it would be scary to solely rely on biometric use.”

“Not a fan of it. Easy to manipulate with AI.”

“Good when used properly. It's hacking and the new AI stuff that is scary.”

“I think it is a slippery slope with all of the AI technology coming up. I'm very concerned about identity theft.”

And while consumers mentioned many other feelings, both positive and negative, a clear theme emerged suggesting the rise of AI has altered perceptions of biometrics.

Take a measured approach to biometric implementations for your business

It’s possible that consumer attitudes toward biometrics will rebound over the next couple of years, but for now, businesses must recognize that biometrics are facing both public doubt and regulatory scrutiny. If your company collects, or plans to collect, biometric data such as fingerprints, voiceprints, or face geometry, it could be at risk of violating various laws and regulations along with exposure to significant financial liability. 

Six states now have biometric-specific laws in place and a dozen others have pending legislation. Of particular note is Illinois’ BIPA which includes a private right of action for victims that often leads to heavy fines. Other comprehensive privacy laws such as California’s CCPA/CPRA and Europe’s GDPR include biometrics as protected data.

This is not to say that your businesses should not use biometrics, only that it must be deliberate in its approach:

  • Ensure that biometric technology is used with consent.

  • Store biometric data securely and in compliance with privacy regulations. 

  • Consider rising public sentiment that generally approves of security use cases for biometrics, but is mostly dubious of other applications.

  • Introduce biometrics as optional to ease customers or employees into new technology that often requires familiarity before gaining acceptance.

  • Provide an explanation for why biometrics are being deployed to add clarity as to why new technology is an improvement over traditional methods—an essential step for easing fears and facilitating adoption.

Want to learn more about privacy laws and their impact on your business? Read our report: What You Should Know About Internet Privacy Laws

If you’re looking for software for your company, check out our article: 6 Top-Rated Tools for IT Professionals

Methodology

*GetApp’s 2024 Biometric Technologies Survey was conducted in January 2024 among 1,000 U.S. consumers to learn more about attitudes toward the use of biometrics by businesses.

GetApp’s 2022 Biometric Technologies Survey was conducted in January 2022 among 974 U.S. consumers to learn more about attitudes toward the use of biometrics by businesses.

GetApp’s 2020 Biometric Technologies Survey was conducted in January 2020 among 487 U.S. consumers to learn more about attitudes toward the use of biometrics by businesses.

**GetApp's 2023 Retail AI Security Risks Survey was conducted in July of 2023 among 1,000 U.S. consumers to learn more about their attitudes and behaviors regarding artificial intelligence tools in online shopping. Respondents were screened for online shopping frequency; all respondents shop online at least once per month.

Sources

  1. White Castle could face multibillion-dollar judgment in Illinois privacy lawsuit, Reuters

  2. Nearly 1.3 million Illinois Facebook users are getting a second check from last year’s $650 million biometric privacy settlement, Chicago Tribune

  3. 23andMe confirms hackers stole ancestry data on 6.9 million users, TechCrunch

  4. Rite Aid Banned from Using AI Facial Recognition After FTC Says Retailer Deployed Technology without Reasonable Safeguards, Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

  5. Man says AI and facial recognition software falsely ID'd him for robbing Sunglass Hut and he was jailed and assaulted, NBC News

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About the author

Zach Capers

Sr Specialist Analyst
Zach Capers is a senior analyst at GetApp, covering IT security, data privacy, and emerging technology trends. A former internal investigator for a Fortune 50 company and researcher for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), his work has been featured in publications such as Forbes, Business Insider, and Journal of Accountancy.
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