At Matterport, we’re in constant motion, creating cutting-edge technologies to further enhance the capabilities of the Matterport digital twin for our customers. An important part of that effort includes a commitment to protecting the privacy of our customers with features they can enable to manage it. One such feature offered today is automated face blurring. Face blurring is software that is designed to protect the privacy of individuals by algorithmically blurring their faces wherever they appear in an image or video. The technique is used widely across industries from street mapping and directions, to news reporting and social media.
It’s a feature that customers can enable when a space is uploaded for processing, and it's designed to protect the privacy of individuals by blurring their faces wherever they appear in a Matterport space. While face blurring has become very useful and effective for our customers in hundreds of thousands of spaces, it is still in beta, which means the technology is a work in progress. We use an open source face blurring technology to power the feature today.
Why the change, why now.
Recently we learned of an instance where this technology failed to perform to our standards, causing far greater harm than the customer and Matterport could ever have imagined and caused a family distress, which is something we take extremely seriously.
During the normal course of processing a Matterport capture for an upcoming home tour, the face blurring feature was enabled, but the end results were both incomplete and disturbing. While no one was home during the Matterport capture, there were family photos displayed throughout the house. The completed space showed that the technology did not blur all of the faces in the photos, it only blurred some. This by itself is a limit of this beta technology where incomplete blurring can occur in specific and rare circumstances - corrected manually or by reapplying the feature. Face blurring can recognize faces in pictures as well as real people, but what happened in this case was more troubling.
The face blurring technology correctly identified and blurred faces of Black family members in photos hung on the wall, but did not identify nor blur the faces of white family members. The technology failed to protect the privacy of the white family members and left a very painful, unexpected impression. The final space contained family photos with the faces of only the Black family members blurred out. This was both shocking and devastating to the homeowners, and to us.
While we understand there are technical reasons for how and why the technology could have produced such a rare, polarizing result, it isn’t the point. The impression this left and the impact to the family is just heartbreaking. And for that, we, Matterport, are responsible for taking significant steps to address this enormously painful side effect of a feature that is intended to help protect our customers, not harm them in any way.
This is the first occurrence of this kind that has been brought to our attention or discovered in beta testing, but under these specific circumstances that’s one occurrence too many. Therefore, as a company, we have concluded that immediate action is warranted. At Matterport, we have a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of inequality, racial injustice, and harassment, which applies to our people and technology.
As a result, we are re-evaluating our approach to face blurring from the ground up, and considering entirely new approaches to privacy protection. In the meantime, we have decided to take immediate action by changing how face blurring functionality is presented in the Matterport Capture App. Starting Tuesday, July 21st, we will remove the face blurring feature from the Capture App to ensure that it is only used as an opt-in by customers aware of its capabilities and limitations.
We are committed to eliminating racial injustice, both as a company and as individuals. In this case, our technology failed in a way that was inconsistent with these values and it has provided valuable insight to how Matterport can incorporate equality into all aspects of the technology we build. This will make Matterport a better product and a better company.