Big rent-stabilized landlord sees backlash over facial recognition

Nelson Management wants to install StoneLock system at 700-unit Brooklyn rental

TRD New York /
Mar.March 26, 2019 04:30 PM
Atlantic Plaza Towers in Brownsville

249 Thomas S. Boyland Street and 216 Rockaway Avenue at Atlantic Plaza Towers in Brownsville (Credit: iStock)

A massive multifamily owner who plans to install facial recognition scanners at a rent-regulated complex in Brooklyn is facing the ire of residents who fear they could be surveilled.

Tenants at Nelson Management’s 700-unit Atlantic Plaza Towers in Brownsville filed an objection to the installation with the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal in January, Gothamist reported.

Brooklyn Legal Services’ Tenants Rights Coalition, which is representing the tenants, told the publication that it was unaware of facial recognition being used in other rent-regulated apartment buildings, and that the landlord “made no assurances to protect the data from being accessed by NYPD, ICE, or any other city, state, or federal agency.”

In a statement, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said that while it had not seen an uptick in such “amenities,” the agency welcomes “development plans that allow for the marriage of high tech features and affordability.”

Nelson Management, which owns multifamily properties in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Mahanttan, said in a statement that the firm planned to fully comply with recommendations made by the state agency.

“This technology is the most innovative and effective solution for protecting the safety and security of residents in our properties,” Robert Nelson, the company’s founder and president, said in a statement to The Real Deal. “That is our sole motivation for pursuing these upgrades.”

StoneLock Go, the facial recognition product that Nelson Management plans to deploy, uses infra-red technology to retrieve thousands of data points from under the skin, like bone structures, which it then uses to grant a resident entry. The manufacturer’s privacy policy states that it can collect JPEG images of people when they opt-in to the service, and create a user profile, on an app used to connect with the device.

The company told TRD that the scanner itself does not take photos and registers about 5 percent of a person’s face. “StoneLock technology only engages with individuals that actively enroll into the system,” the company said in a statement. “Identity is protected, privacy ensured, and access seamlessly guaranteed.”

Still, residents at the buildings remain wary.

“We don’t want to be tracked,” Icemae Downes, a tenant, told Gothamist. “This is like tagging us through our faces because they can’t implant us with a chip.”

Across town, the debate over data privacy and surveillance has also raised concerns at Hudson Yards. TRD reported that Related Companies, the site’s developer, planned to store data it collected for infinite time periods, and could potentially sell it to third party, a red flag for some anti-surveillance advocates. One of the technologies are kiosks, developed by Google-affiliate Intersection, which are used for directions and displaying advertisements, but also have cameras and microphones.

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