Biometrics' Place in a Post-COVID World

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Biometrics' Place in a Post-COVID World

By Michal Christine Escobar - 06/04/2020

As states slowly begin to reopen their economies, hotels and restaurants are exploring the use of biometric technologies as a way of complying with social distancing, specifically for temperature scanning and visitor management. CyberLink, a legacy tech company and developer of FaceMe – a facial recognition engine – is working with a number of U.S. distributors to bring their technology to small and large businesses alike. HT spoke with Dr. Jau Huang, Chairman and CEO of CyberLink, to learn more about how biometric technology could become a valuable resource for the hospitality industry.

What are some hotel use cases for biometric tech? How might these use cases evolve once the threat of COVID is gone?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on unprecedented challenges to the hospitality industry, and as hotels look to reopen and restore consumer confidence in traveling and staying at their venues, AI technologies such as facial recognition can provide solutions to help them do so and even deliver an enhanced experience to their guests.  

For a first example, let’s look at the concept of contactless guest access and authentication. When a guest arrives into a hotel, if facial recognition technology is in place, he or she can self-check-in, activate elevators and unlock rooms through a biometric face scan – much like unlocking a smart phone – instead of offering a physical key or card for access. Concierges and staff can be automatically notified of opted-in loyalty program members, enabling them to offer a VIP treatment. Another example is integrating facial recognition technology through POS and payment terminals, which can be applied throughout a hotel and its services offered, enabling guests to pay for not only their rooms, but spa services, café meals, etc. through a face scan, without ever needing a physical exchange. These solutions not only help hotels reopen in the wake of COVID by offering touchless and thus germless solutions, but they also offer an added layer of convenience to guests that once accustomed to, will continue to be in demand for more enjoyable experiences.

Prior to COVID-19, consumers in the USA were fairly averse to biometric tech. Do you think COVID will change consumer minds about its usefulness?

While facial recognition technology has faced a unique set of hurdles and criticisms, not all of the technology is created equal. There is a huge difference in applications that are abused for surveillance versus opt-in technology that is built and applied with privacy in mind. Not to mention that many Americans actually use facial recognition every day to unlock their smart phone. It’s something they are already familiar with and really appreciate for convenience and added security when applied ethically to the right situations.

As the travel industry works to rebound and explore facial recognition solutions that enable them to do so, explicit trust and transparency will be key to debunk any misunderstandings in how hotel properties are using the technology. Because Americans are eager to get back to “normal life,” or as close a version to it, their attitudes have already shifted – being more open minded as to what the new normal will be, and by recognizing the solutions that will help them get there and bring upon more safe and enjoyable experiences – with travel as no exception.

What kind of privacy considerations do hotels have to keep in mind when using biometric technology?

When it comes to security, biometric data is just like any other piece of information a hotel has on a guest – it must be protected. However, not all facial recognition technology works exactly the same and some applications are inherently more secure than others. For one, hotels would be well advised to look for solutions that require load-in database references, meaning a hotel loads in facial recognition data of its guests after they’ve received consent from them to do so, rather than the technology scaping online channels to inform its database. They should also look for solutions that record encrypted facial vectors instead of actual pictures of their customers’ face. In addition, the application should not be storing data in the cloud, which can be – and has been – exploited by any number of malicious methods.

Who "owns" and is responsible for protecting biometric data?

All hotel properties that employ facial biometric technology must do so with high security and privacy built-in by default. Consumers are much more willing to share data when they trust the brand using it – and that same rule applies for hotel operators. Facial recognition technology is merely another channel that enables hotels to provide safe and enjoyable experiences for guests, and ultimately, as the deployer of the technology, it is also their job to do so responsibly. When deployed properly, facial recognition technology can actually enhance customer security and protection of their data. It is up to 100 times more secure than other biometric solutions, nevermind a typical pin or password.

What are some predictions you have on how biometric tech will change the way consumers live and travel?

Facial recognition technology will not only help businesses across industries reopen and meet health and safety guidelines, but it will also inevitably lead to more personalized experiences. Facial recognition technology has the ability to identify not just a familiar face, but emotional responses. It can identify a traveler that frequents the same hotel and prefers to have a room on the first floor, log this information, and allow it to be used by staff when checking the guest in. It can also provide hotel managers detailed and valuable insights into which hotel services are enjoyed most by guests by aggregating and anonymizing emotional responses of guests at the spa compared to guests at the gym or guests in office rooms or the hotel restaurant. Overall, facial recognition technology will not only enable the future of hospitality, it will enhance it.

About the Author

Dr. Jau Huang founded CyberLink Corp. in 1996, with a focus on developing world-class digital video and Internet technologies. His vision and passion has propelled Cyberlink to grow from a small company to an award-winning global brand. As Chairman and CEO, he leads a dynamic, award-winning team that keeps on delivering some of the industry’s most innovative products.

Jau earned his Ph.D. in Computer Science at UCLA and went on to become a professor in the Computer Science and Information Engineering department of National Taiwan University (NTU). During his professorship at NTU, he published numerous papers on computer network protocols and distributed multimedia systems. He is currently an adjunct Professor at NTU and frequent lecturer on digital discourse and technological innovation.

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