Face-mask recognition has arrived—for better or worse

New algorithms can police whether people are complying with public health guidance. The practice raises familiar questions about data privacy.

Video by Mark Thiessen and Rebecca Hale, National Geographic/Face-mask recognition technology courtesy Tryolabs
Video by Mark Thiessen and Rebecca Hale, National Geographic/Face-mask recognition technology courtesy Tryolabs

Public shaming over not wearing a face mask started almost as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic itself. In February, some provinces and municipalities in China made it mandatory to wear masks when in public. News reports soon followed of residents and police chastising the non-compliant, a trend that’s now seen globally.

When Akash Takyar heard those early stories trickle out of China, he was shocked at how things were being handled, and he wondered if his software company—LeewayHertz—could offer a more peaceful way. Takyar recognized how important it is to wear a mask to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But rather than leave members of the public to monitor each other, he wanted to develop

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