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  4. Facial recognition: a win-win in football stadiums and beyond

At sports stadiums and other venues, facial-recognition technology promises improved security, a better visitor experience, and actionable insights for organisers.

On 19 February, the European Commission published its long-anticipated white paper on artificial intelligence. It marks the launch of a broad European debate – one that will lead to new legislation on AI, including its use for facial recognition.

At i-PRO, we welcome new, clearly defined rules for compliance and data privacy: the sooner concrete regulations are in place, the better – because although some people are apprehensive about this technology, it has a great deal to offer.

In fact, facial recognition is fast becoming part and parcel of everyday life. Many people already use it to unlock their smartphones, for instance. And most airports now have biometric automated border control systems, or eGates, for passport checks. But even while acceptance is on the rise, people continue to have concerns.

Security. Reliability. Flexibility.

i-PRO’s FacePRO™ solution is designed to be GDPR-friendly. It leverages live or recorded video to automatically match a person’s face to an image stored in a database. But how does that work in concrete terms? And how do we protect privacy?

Let’s look at the world of sports. Professional football clubs are keen to tackle hooliganism – to make matches both safer and more enjoyable for genuine fans. Known troublemakers who have been blacklisted for, say, a fight or setting off flares, are stored in an internal database. FacePRO™ can use this information when scanning crowds approaching the venue to automatically identify registered offenders and alert security – allowing them to intervene before these individuals even enter the stadium. The technology rapidly flags up matches, but ultimately it is the humans who decide if and how to respond.

What’s more, FacePRO™ is exceptionally accurate. It can verify IDs where conventional techniques often fail – when images are taken at an extreme angle, for example, or where a face is obscured by a hat, sunglasses or a scarf. It can also account for ageing, recognising faces on the basis of photographs up to 10 years old.

A further advantage of FacePRO™ is its flexibility in terms of data storage and anonymisation. The user can, for instance, define settings to be GDPR-compliant – alleviating many fans’ concerns in the process. It is possible to determine which images are saved to a server under which circumstances – for example, only capturing pictures that are a match for a blacklisted individual. Users can also define a retention period, after which images are simply deleted. Where information is captured on crowd size or demographics, these data can be anonymised. Furthermore, the entire system is encrypted for robust protection against cyber-attacks.

The (more) beautiful game

But it is not just about security – facial recognition can also be harnessed to enhance the fan experience. Biometric entry gates can grant VIP or season-ticket holders shorter queues and quicker access: fans ordering season tickets can opt to upload an ID photo, which will subsequently be compared in real time with images captured at the stadium entrance. Moreover, registered spectators who have forgotten their paper ticket can still enter and enjoy the action. And those who don’t want to upload a photo still have the option of using the conventional turnstiles.

Ultimately, the technology means both greater safety and less hassle – so football fans can go back to focusing on what is most important to them: the charged atmosphere of a match, the comradery with their fellow supporters, and the buzz of watching their team score a goal.

Broader benefits

In certain scenarios, FacePRO™ enables the collection of data for analytics, with the overarching aim of improving services inside the stadium. Organisers can count the number of people entering the venue, for example, to ensure food vendors are adequately prepared. They can also gather useful information on age and gender. The data are anonymised from end to end, ensuring privacy while giving the system’s users actionable insights.

Facial recognition also has huge potential outside of the sports world – for concerts, museums or anywhere there are large crowds and/or ticketing systems. The organiser, whether a stadium or store, can better manage and allocate stock, provide more targeted information and assistance, and prevent shrinkage – i.e. by identifying known shoplifters and alerting staff so they can intervene. FacePRO™ can also be paired with CCTV to prevent fraudulent use of entry passes for an event, gym membership, etc.