Ethics in facial expression analysis

FaceReader is a software tool for scientific research in areas such as human communication, emotions and human-machine interaction. It is used in over 1,000 universities, research institutes and corporate R&D laboratories around 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 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;
  • User experience assessment of digital media;
  • Restoration of facial expression after plastic surgery;
  • Pain experience by people who cannot express themselves, for example babies or patients with dementia.

FaceReader analyzes basic facial expressions, facial action units, affective states, valence and arousal. In addition, it can measure facial gestures, head orientation, chewing, talking, and much more.

FaceReader is not capable of recognizing or identifying faces or people, and therefore unsuitable for mass surveillance of people for security purposes. It is also impossible to use FaceReader as a ‘lie detector’. Nevertheless, we fully understand that there can be some discomfort about technology that is capable of analyzing facial expressions. Therefore, Noldus disapproves of the use of FaceReader without informed consent from the individuals whose facial expressions 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 user of the software. Consent can be obtained 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 embedding it into third-party products, services or systems, which requires prior approval of Noldus Information Technology.

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, i.e. embedding FaceReader in a weapon system.
  • Biometric data collection in criminal, security-related or similar investigations or procedures.
  • Surveillance of people in public spaces for security purposes.
  • Any other use 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.