It’s actually not as rare as you might think, i.e. when one trend or topic runs smack into another trend – in the same sector!
That’s exactly what happened this media cycle when a number of online privacy groups took a stand against the growing use of facial recognition technology for identifying individuals online, typically within the context of various social networks such as Facebook and Google+.
The topic of facial recognition has been kept alive more out of movie subplots then actual every-day news coverage. But lately the tech in movies like Minority Report are becoming part of our every-day lives. And like everything tech and cool, media attention and controversy are quick to take up the drumbeat.
News and social media discussion pushed the ratings on the topic of facial recognition systems up +8 points or nearly +11 percent to 74, matching the previous high from July 2013. It was in June 2013 that Google buckled under public pressure not to permit facial recognition applications on its now ill-fated Google Glasses platform.
This time around the controversy and ensuing media coverage came down to a disagreement between various consumer groups and the tech industry itself over how to implement advancing facial recognition technologies while still preserving the privacy of individuals. Essentially consumer groups wanted an opt-in approach while industry (essentially Facebook and Google) were lobbying for the more commercial friendly opt-out model. Media momentum is building, up +11 percent this month after a sudden media momentum trigger last in May.
And never underestimate the media’s appetite for consumer group walk-outs. And the failure to get agreement on a voluntary opt-out system among top tech companies did exactly that when the who’s-who of consumer online advocacy groups walked out on mass, setting the stage for lawsuits and eventual FTC intervention.
From a media perspective, coverage of facial recognition technologies has never been a top-10 trend in the highly volatile Technology Sector. While it has maintained a strong media position in the 60+ rating range, it has not had what I would call a “break-through” media momentum.
With the last two online privacy run-ins, it looks like the media’s appetite for online privacy stories may be the main news driver for facial recognition technologies, and not the positive applications of facial recognition that vendors have been striving for. The topic moved up an amazing +17 positions in the Technology Sector this month.
Should industry be worried about the momentum behind online privacy stories in the media? The short answer is yes. Media concern and coverage has been steady and strong for over 4-years. Edward Snowden kicked the whole topic into mainstream news with revelations of NSA eavesdropping on every manner of consumer conversation. Now Google, Facebook and other tech giants are facing the same backlash over privacy concerns.