Answering Your Questions about Privacy

With conversations about data privacy, mining, algorithmic bias, and surveillance technologies, we wanted to dedicate a page to answer some questions about how the Face :Detector treats your data and values your privacy.

Have other questions about your privacy? Email us at facedetector(a)umich.edu.

How does the installation recognize and use my facial features?

The camera takes a continuous video that is made up of individual frames. These individual frames are sent to a small desktop computer hidden inside the installation behind the monitors. In the computer, each frame is run through a mathematical model that helps the computer make sense of the data (an “algorithm”). The algorithm looks at the relationship between pixels to find mathematical configurations that resemble a human face, based on a variety of parameters. Once the computer thinks it “sees” a face, it assesses the affect or emotional state based on another algorithm.

These algorithms allow us to figure out what’s a face and the variety of characteristics we display but are also the source of errors and potential biases.

What data are you saving?

The software powering the installation looks at a live stream of video, which generates the various interactions you see on the two screens.

The installation takes a single thumbnail photo from the video to display on the Terminal screen within the store. This photo is kept in RAM, or temporary memory, and is deleted once the image is no longer one of the most recent or when the software is reset every four hours.

We do keep two forms of data generated by our technology: 

  1. the computer’s assessment of gender, age range, and top emotion with a corresponding timestamp. We use the data to create the aggregate measures you see at the top of the Terminal screen. These aggregate measures are also reset every four hours. 
  2. a timestamp of when the confetti falls on the screen with the ice cream scoop interaction (i.e. when we hit a certain level of “happiness” based on the interactions with the screen).

Can the data you store be used to identify me?

No, none of the data we store can be used to identify a specific individual.