17 March 2022

Face Recognition or Farce Recognition?

Beauty is only skin-deep: face recognition technology is being used to make women redundant.

Back in 2020, Estée Lauder, the global beauty products firm, decided to make some 2,000 people redundant. This was due to a reduction in demand as a result of the pandemic.

Today, it’s reported that the company used a novel method of deciding just who should get the chop. Normally, redundancy involves consultation and management (if they are doing it by the book) have to draw up criteria on which they make their decisions. If nothing else, this means they have a demonstrable process which can be defended in court if necessary.

However, Estée Lauder decided to use facial recognition technology as part of the process. Now, leaving on one side the potentially dangerous ground of a company that trades in beauty making decisions based on the way someone looks, it is reported that three female employees at Mac Cosmetics, a branch of Estée Lauder, lost their jobs as a result of automated video interviews that analysed the words they used in their answers to the questions posted and also looked at their expressions.

The three took legal action, arguing that they were not interviewed by a real person. They won and Estee Lauder settled with an out-of-court agreement which I hope more than compensates them for the way they have been treated.

Now, Be-IT is a tech recruiter. Our whole existence is bound up with the way technology is developed and used. The vast bulk of this is for the good of us all. However, there are certain areas (the Russian bots and trolls spreading lies on Facebook about their invasion of Ukraine spring quickly to mind), where technology is a malevolent force.

We have written extensively over the years about our concerns about facial recognition technology. Yes, of course, many users use tech to simplify and speed-up the recruitment process, including interviewing, but ultimately this is about human beings, their lives and work, and therefore it is, in my view, essential that the final decision about anyone’s work status, whether getting or losing a job, is made following a face-to-face discussion between the humans involved.

Matt Druce, Client Delivery Director, Be-IT Projects

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