Ethics in face reading

Ethics in face reading

FaceReader is a software tool for scientific research in areas such as human communication, emotions, and man-machine interaction. It is used in over 1,000 universities, institutes, and corporate research laboratories all over the world. As such it is an important product in Noldus’ portfolio of software and hardware solutions and services for the measurement and analysis of behavior that, as our mission states, allow our customers to advance their research, product development, training, and education.

Examples of research applications of FaceReader include:

  • Research into adequate emotional responses of parents when infants are crying;
  • Relationship between food choice, emotions and depression;
  • The role of physicians’ bias in working with depressed cardiac patients;
  • Acceptance of healthier food by consumers, for example containing less salt, more vegetables, or meat substitutes;
  • Pain experience by people who cannot express themselves, for example babies or patients with dementia.

FaceReader analyzes facial expressions such as happy, sad, angry, disgusted, or confused. In addition, the software is also capable of measuring other aspects and behaviors, for example head orientation, heart rate, chewing, or talking. Finally, person characteristics such as age class or gender can be recorded, which is useful in scientific research for studying gender differences or variances between age categories.


FaceReader is not capable of recognizing or identifying faces or people, and therefore unsuitable for for mass surveillance of people for security purposes. Nevertheless, we fully understand that there can be some discomfort about technology that is capable of storing images of faces and analyzing facial expressions. Therefore Noldus disapproves of the use of our technology without explicit prior consent from the individuals whose faces are being captured. 

How this consent is obtained may differ, depending on the application in which FaceReader is being used, but the responsibility for acquiring consent rests with the organization applying our software. Consent can be acquired for example by an explicit opt-in before the software is being activated. In other cases a notification that makes it clear to persons that they can decide whether or not to participate is more suitable. In all cases it should be made clear what the collected information will be used for, with whom it will be shared, and where, how, and for how long it will be stored.


Sustainable development and quality of life with software for research or training

With the development of tools for measuring behavior, health, and wellbeing, Noldus Information Technology wants to contribute to sustainable development and quality of life. As above examples illustrate, face reading has the potential of being a powerful technology contributing to this ambition. Consequently, we have a strict policy related to the use of FaceReader, including the implementation of this technology into third-party products or services and other systems in which FaceReader technology is embedded. 

Our software is designed specifically for research or training, and Noldus Information Technology does not allow the use of FaceReader for a number of applications, including:

  • Active defense, meaning the application of FaceReader in weapon systems, for example to support a pilot in a fighter plane or an operator controlling a weaponized drone.
  • Data collection in a judicial context with the aim to use such data as evidence in court. FaceReader cannot and shall not be used as a lie detector.
  • Surveillance of people in public spaces for security purposes.
  • Any other use of our technology that may potentially violate fundamental human rights.

Noldus Information Technology will not sell FaceReader to customers who intend to use the product for such applications. When applicable, we may ask customers to provide an end-use statement. If we notice FaceReader is used in applications we do not approve of, this may lead to cease of support of this customer and/or termination of the software license.