Massive office landlord Vornado is planning to install face-reading cameras to track tenants in all of its buildings— including one where Facebook just inked a big lease

  • Vornado Realty Trust began installing facial recognition systems in buildings it owns in New York City five years ago. 
  • The company, one of the city’s largest commercial landlords with 19 million square feet across 35 buildings, recently expanded its use of the tech to 11 buildings and plans to roll it out across its entire portfolio.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has prompted landlords to scramble to create seamless and touchless methods for tenants to pass through lobby security and dispatch elevators. 
  • Vornado believes its use of facial recognition could help it encourage tenants to return to the pot-Covid workplace.  
  • Vornado executives say the company uses facial recognition responsibly, allowing tenants to opt in and out voluntarily and securing and anonymizing the data. 

Vornado Realty Trust, among New York City’s largest office landlords, said it uses facial recognition in portions of its expansive portfolio and plans to expand its use of the controversial technology as workers are expected to migrate back to the office in the coming months.

The nearly $7 billion public company, which controls 19 million square feet across 35 properties in Manhattan, is one of the only major commercial landlords to embrace face reading, a technology that has raised public concerns over surveillance and privacy.

In a conversation with Business Insider, Vornado executives described the company’s deployment of facial recognition in detail for the first time, stating that it was part of a push to modernize its buildings technologically in recent years and create more convenient entry systems for tenants.

Read More: Facial-recognition could be coming to your office. Here’s how companies are pitching the tech to landlords and trying to allay privacy concerns.

Touchless methods that allow employees in large office buildings to quickly pass through lobby security and dispatch an elevator have gained importance amid the coronavirus pandemic as tenants have become concerned about the transmission of germs in public spaces and the workplace.

Vornado has used facial-recognition in some office buildings for the past five years

In Vornado’s case, the company has employed face-reading systems in its buildings for the past five years, it said, positioning it as a potential leader in creating the kind of accessibility that landlords hope will encourage a return to the office.

“We are constantly looking to adopt new, cutting-edge technologies that will make our buildings more efficient and life more convenient for our tenants,” said David Greenbaum, Vornado’s vice chairman and one of the company’s senior leaders. 

Greenbaum said that he first began discussing the technology with Vornado’s chairman and CEO, Steve Roth, about six years ago after noticing that some tenants in Vornado properties had to carry with them two entry cards, one to clear through a building’s turnstiles and another to access the doors to their specific space.

Read More: Facebook just reached a blockbuster deal to lease the massive Farley Building in NYC as a tech and engineering hub. Here’s why it’s a huge win for a shaken office market.

Facial recognition offered the promise of creating an entry credential that required no phone, wallet, or access card.

Prior to 2020, the company installed the systems in 5 of its buildings. It later sold one of those office properties, leaving the company with 4 buildings where facial recognition is in operation. This year it accelerated work to install the technology in 7 additional buildings after Covid-19 hit. Those systems are now operational.

The company plans to install face-reading systems in its entire portfolio, but has not laid out a timeline when that work will be complete. Among the buildings where it will soon deploy the technology are One and Two Penn Plaza, large office properties that the company is in the process of extensively renovating. Among the buildings where face reading is already in operation is the large Midtown office tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, and 340 West 34th Street, where Amazon has offices.

Vornado will also have face-reading cameras at the Farley Building, where it just signed a blockbuster lease with Facebook to occupy the over 700,000 square feet of office space at the property, which Vornado is redeveloping.  

How office workers can opt in to facial recognition 

Tenants can opt in and out of the system voluntarily and there is about a 40% participation rate in the 4 properties that had the technology prior to 2020, a total of about 6,000 of the 15,000 office employees who work in those properties. 

“Virtually everyone who has used the technology has liked it,” Greenbaum said. “I never had a preconceived notion of what the adoption rate would be, but as our tenants see others using it, they are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology.”

It isn’t clear yet what the participation rate will be in the 7 properties where the technology was recently brought online because most tenants haven’t yet returned to the workplace, Vornado said.

Gaston Silva, the company’s New York area chief operating officer, said that tenants who participate have their photo taken and that their biometric data is stored anonymously in onsite systems.

“Every face is assigned a number that is disassociated from someone’s identity,” Silva said. “The information is encrypted and stored on systems that cannot be accessed from the internet.”

Many landlords have shied away from using facial recognition technology, especially as controversies have erupted over its use.

China uses it to surveil its citizens and oppress the Uyghurs, a minority population of Muslim citizens along its western border, actions that have drawn worldwide condemnation.

Clearview AI created an algorithm that pulled billions of faces from pictures posted on the internet, creating a database that could be used to identify nearly anyone.

“Based on my conversations with tenants, many find the concept of facial recognition to be creepy and they are opposed to the idea,” said Craig Deitelzweig, CEO of Marx Realty, which has a portfolio of 4.6 million square feet of commercial space.

Facial-recognition proponents insist there are ethical ways to use the technology, including by taking the key steps of receiving consent from participants, securely storing their data, being transparent how it is used, and giving participants the right to opt out.

Vornado has used third-party facial reading technology and outside vendors to help it deploy the systems in its buildings, partners it declined to name. On its website, Vornado states that it uses the security company GMSC, which is owned by Vornado and has its headquarters in the Vornado-owned office building Eleven Penn Plaza, to help it manage tenants and visitor access to its buildings and “biometric facial recognition installation and enrollment assistance.”

GMSC, on its website, says it handles security work for Amazon, Facebook, and Bloomberg, all three of which are tenants in Vornado’s New York portfolio.

Subsequent to deploying face-reading systems, Vornado developed mobile applications that allow tenants to use their smart phone to pass through lobby security. Some tenants prefer facial recognition, Greenbaum said.

“In fact, facial recognition is easier than using your phone,” Greenbaum said. “If you are on a call when you enter the building, you likely would prefer not to move the phone from your ear in order to bring it closer to the turnstile.”

Have a tip? Contact Daniel Geiger at dgeiger@businessinsider.com or via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (646) 352-2884, or Twitter DM at @dangeiger79. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

SEE ALSO: Facebook just reached a blockbuster deal to lease the massive Farley Building in NYC as a tech and engineering hub. Here’s why it’s a huge win for a shaken office market.

SEE ALSO: Facial-recognition could be coming to your office. Here’s how companies are pitching the tech to landlords and trying to allay privacy concerns.

SEE ALSO: Mandatory temperature-taking is largely seen as a critical way to return workers to offices. But some big NYC landlords are worried about its effectiveness.

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Public Transportation Isn’t Always The Best Or The Cheapest Option – Your Mileage May Vary

Sharon and I are big fans of public transportation. For most large cities in the world, it’s one of the cheapest and quickest ways to get from an airport to the city center. Heck, when we were in Frankfurt, we got from our hotel to the subway to the airport in less than twenty minutes. When visiting London, we’ve learned that there are several options other than the “express train” to get from the airport to the city.

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Oops!

We ended up having to take a Lyft to the airport. Since I had already registered my Sapphire Reserve with Lyft, we got a 15% discount on our ride with Lyft Pink. I also received 10x Ultimate Rewards, 2x Delta SkyMiles for a ride to the airport and 3x Hilton Honors points for our trip.

I paid $23.63 for our trip to the airport and it only took us 20 minutes to get there.  Our trip to our hotel had taken well over an hour. With Lyft, we were picked up at our hotel and dropped off at our terminal instead of having to walk to the BART station from the hotel and take the AirTrain from the BART station once arriving at SFO.

I paid $25 for our trip into town if you include the price of our Clipper cards. That’s more than I paid for a Lyft.

These calculations will change depending on how many people are in your group. For a solo traveler, the BART will still be a cheaper option, but if you’re a family, a Lyft or Uber will probably be a less expensive and more convenient alternative.

Final Thoughts

When planning trips to and from the airport in a major city, I usually default to look for public transportation. As it turns out, this might not always be the most convenient or cheapest option. Next time, I’ll check to see the price for Uber and Lyft before buying our train tickets.

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‘Absolutely devastating’: Tributes paid after death of Detective Garda Colm Horkan in Roscommon shooting

Updated 3 hours ago

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has paid tribute this morning to Detective Garda Colm Horkan who died after being shot in Castlerea, Co Roscommon overnight. 

Det Garda Horkan died following an incident in Castlerea which happened shortly before midnight. He was on duty at the time. 

It is believed that his official firearm was taken from him during the incident and he was shot with it. 

Paying tribute today, the Taoiseach extended his deepest sympathies to Det Garda Horkan’s family and friends of the Garda.

“Every day our Gardaí put themselves on the frontline of crime prevention, on behalf of all of us. This requires regular acts of bravery and courage. Sometimes the outcome is tragic and a Garda makes the ultimate sacrifice in the course of their duties,” said Varadkar. 

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Mulligan said Horkan was as an “experienced detective greatly respected by colleagues”. 

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Shocked and saddened at the killing of a member of An Garda Siochana in Castlerea. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his community and all his colleagues who continue to bravely protect us all from harm every day.

— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD)

President Michael D Higgins said Det Garda Horkan’s death in Castlerea comes “as a shock to us all”. 

“As President of Ireland I wish to express my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the Garda, and to all those who have been affected by this tragedy.

An Garda Síochána play a crucial role in our communities and this loss of life is traumatic for our society as a whole.

“I have contacted the Garda Commissioner to express my deepest sympathies on this terrible loss of a member of the Force,” said Higgins. 

In a statement this morning, Minister for Justice & Equality Charlie Flanagan said: “I am deeply shocked and saddened at the shooting of a Garda member in Roscommon last night and a full murder investigation is underway. 

“The brave Detective Garda who died last night died in the line of duty, serving and protecting the community,” said Flanagan.

“His death will cause untold heartbreak to his family, loved ones and all his colleagues in An Garda Síochána across the whole country. It is also a loss to wider Irish society. His heroism and the debt of gratitude which we owe to him and his family will never be forgotten.”

‘Huge shock’

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, TD for Roscommon Galway Denis Naughten, said Det Garda Horkan’s death was “absolutely devastating”. 

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“The community in Castlerea would work very closely on an ongoing basis with Gardaí and particularly over the last number of weeks” due to Covid-19, he said. 

“This is a huge shock to the community as a whole, to the Garda force throughout the Roscommon-Longford Garda division which would be a close-knit Garda force here. Everyone knows everyone, it is a rural division,” said Naughten. 

“It is a huge blow to the force, to the community and, of course, particularly to the Garda’s family,” he said. 

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Awful news this morning coming from @GardaTraffic with the death of a Garda colleague in Castlerea. Thoughts from all @PoliceServiceNI with his family, friends and colleagues at such a difficult time. pic.twitter.com/e4ftmQYc20

— Simon Byrne (@ChiefConPSNI)

Local Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane, meanwhile, said the incident was a “truly shocking incident”.

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In a statement this morning, The Policing Authority’s Karen Shelley said: “The killing of a Garda, as well as being a wilful denial of the right to life, is an attack on the essence and the foundations of our democracy.”

“It is a fundamental assault on the principle of equality. In the midst of exemplary service to the community during the health emergency, the Garda Síochána will mourn the death of a colleague,” said Shelley. 

In a statement this morning, An Garda Síochana said one man has been arrested in connection with the investigation and is currently detained in Castlerea Garda Station. 

An Garda Síochana has asked for privacy for Det Garda Horkan’s family at this time. 

“It is with deepest sadness An Garda Siochána confirms the death of our colleague, resulting from fatal gunshot wounds received during an incident in Castlerea shortly before midnight,” a statement from An Garda Siochána said. 

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