Under Surveillance

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February 10, 2020

Every day in the news we hear about the creation of new products or industries based on innovations in technology, old businesses being disrupted and new ways of doing business. Yet for most of us, investing in such trends, ideas and events is less than straightforward. Exchange traded funds (ETFs) may be a vehicle, which can offer exposure to innovative companies that can potentially impact our world. Here we consider some of the major trends making headlines today and ways ETFs may potentially provide exposure to those sectors

Facial recognition technology is becoming an increasingly controversial tool in the fight against crime. However, it also holds significant positive potential for other business sectors.

Facial recognition is an Artificial Technology (AI)-based technology that recognizes people using a number of our physical features. It is used for a myriad of applications – from security to social media – but most TV viewers would draw an immediate connection to crime fighting. Or unlocking your phone.

With respect to crime-fighting, the surveillance technology is a marked step up from the camera-based security we have relied upon for decades. Today there are more CCTV’s (Closed Circuit television – also known as video surveillance) per person in the US than in any other country.1 By incorporating facial recognition software, it is expected such technology will help identify terrorists or any other known criminals.

However, facial recognition technology for security purposes has in practice, proved somewhat problematic. Pilot tests of facial recognition security systems have so far yielded patchy results and courted controversy. San Francisco legislators recently voted to ban the public use of facial recognition technology. Similar steps have been taken in Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts amid a wider national debate over online privacy.2. In January 2020 a social media company was ordered to pay compensation to a group of users in Illinois after winning a legal dispute that its facial recognition tool violated the state’s privacy laws.3

Yet, there are other positives for the burgeoning technology. Its application could result in faster processing and automation of identification, lessening reliance on security guards and side stepping hacking vulnerabilities as it offers quick and efficient verification of a person.

Video doorbells, unlocking phones, health applications, ‘smart’ targeted advertising, payment systems, passport control, aid with missing persons (and pets) and helping to identify potential threats are just some of the uses associated with facial recognition.

Which is why there are estimates that by 2024 the global facial recognition market will generate US$9bn of revenue, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.5% for the period 2019-2024.4

Among the beneficiaries of this technology, many believe, will be microchip and software manufacturers as well as data and internet service providers.


2 6 Boston Globe. Somerville City Council passes facial recognition ban. 27 June 2019



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