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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Suicide remains leading cause of death for those aged 10 to 29 in S’pore

There were a total of 400 reported suicides in Singapore in 2019, up from 397 in 2018, Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) said in a release in Aug. 3, 2020.

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Suicides increased across most age groups

Most age groups registered a slight increase in the number of suicide deaths in 2019.

Deaths as a result of suicide dropped to 8.00 per 100,000 Singapore residents from 8.36 in 2018.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for youths aged 10 to 29.

Notably, the number of suicide deaths amongst those aged 20 to 29 years remains highest compared to all other age groups.

20 to 29 years old group vulnerable

In 2019, 71 youths aged between 20 and 29 years took their own lives.

Suicide accounts for about one-third of all reported deaths in this age group.

Seeking help

Of those who revealed their age, youths between 20 to 29 years old accounted for approximately 17 per cent of total calls attended to on the 24-hour hotline, and making up for about 37 per cent of Email Befriending clients.

In particular, the number of calls from this age group rose to 4,124, up from 3,396 calls in the previous fiscal year ending March 2019.

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Problems encountered

Through interactions with clients, SOS observed that these individuals often cite issues with romantic relationships, difficulties coping with one’s mental health and struggles managing challenging situations as contributing factors that led to their acute distress.

In a survey recently conducted by SOS to understand the community’s perception towards suicide, one in three in the 20 to 29 age group, responded that they will not consider contacting others for help when they are emotionally overwhelmed.

Stigmatising beliefs around suicide emerged as a common barrier to seeking help for this group.

The fear of embarrassment, being judged, along with the sense of hopelessness that nothing will help, were prominent reasons that surfaced in the survey findings.

A total of 2,497 respondents participated in the survey, of which 580 were aged 20 to 29.

Gasper Tan, Chief Executive of SOS, said: “While the rise in calls is an encouraging sign that youths are recognising the importance of their mental health and need for early intervention, the high number of suicide deaths in this age group is concerning.”

“Much more remains to be done as a community to further understand and address the issues that may prevent our youths from seeking help”.

Highlighting the integral role of advocacy in recent years, he added: “As the lead agency in suicide prevention, SOS will continue to harness these efforts, drawing on the strength, support and network of the community in our programmes and outreach”.

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SOS text-based service introduced

The launch of SOS’ text-based service, SOS Care Text, has been brought forward in recognition of the hesitation of calling the hotline for some individuals in distress or contemplating suicide and their preference for another option through text messaging.

Referring to the increase in the number of calls into the 24-hour Hotline and emails during the Circuit Breaker period, Tan said: “During these trying times, it is crucial that SOS is able to readily provide an alternative form of emotional support while catering to the changing communication preferences of the community.”

Respondents to the SOS survey had also indicated text-based services as the most preferred platform to seek help, reflecting the timely introduction of this offering.

About SOS

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) is a secular, non-profit suicide prevention centre.

Established 1969, SOS has developed into a professionally run and managed organisation that adopts a holistic approach to suicide-related topics, focusing on prevention, intervention and postvention, an intervention conducted after a suicide for loved ones and friends.

With the mission to be an available lifeline to anyone in crisis, SOS offers emotional support to people in crisis, thinking of suicide, or affected by suicide.

All information shared with SOS is treated as confidential and people can choose to remain anonymous.

Top photo via Unsplash

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Bernell Trammell death: Milwaukee shooting victim’s memory stays alive

He ‘gave freedom to everyone’s voice’: A week after shooting death of Bernell Trammell, friends keep his legacy alive

Sophie Carson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published 12:00 AM EDT Aug 1, 2020

Bernell Trammell spent his life starting conversations.

He loved hearing what passing strangers had to say. Trammell eagerly sought out discussion — on sidewalks, homemade signs in hand, and through submissions to his publication, eXpressions Journal.

“Everybody has a voice. Everybody’s voice has power,” longtime friend Pia Lombardi recalled Trammell saying.

When he was shot and killed last week outside his Riverwest office, Trammell’s own voice was silenced, Lombardi said.

But at a vigil for him Friday, his memory and message remained vibrant. Friends recalled his good nature and willingness to chat, and neighbors said the city lost an irreplaceable local character.

“Milwaukee, the east side, Riverwest — we’re going to miss him. Because he was very vocal,” said neighborhood resident Alicia Williams. 

Because Trammell was outspoken about religion and politics — and supported President Donald Trump — some suspect he was targeted for his beliefs. Prominent conservatives have called for a federal investigation into his death, and the suspicion of a political motivation made national news and gained traction on social media.

Lombardi said she even received an invitation to appear on commentator Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

Milwaukee police have not released any information about possible motives for the killing.

Trammell also carried signs supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement and state Sen. Lena Taylor, a Democrat.

Those who knew Trammell said they don’t know why he was killed and can’t understand why anyone would shoot him. More than a week after his death, they don’t have any answers. Police have asked the public’s help in looking for a suspect in the shooting and have offered a cash reward for tips. 

Malcolm Hunt, a chaplain for the Milwaukee Police Department, speaks and prays for his friend Bernell Trammell during a memorial vigil.
Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Nate Fox of Milwaukee called Trammell a “gentle beast” who was genuinely interested in hearing different perspectives.

About 15 years ago, Fox used to see Trammell around Riverwest, dressed in a leather jacket and leather chaps.

“He didn’t look like a very approachable guy,” Fox laughed. “But if you would actually have a conversation with him you would see that he’s genuine, that he would hear you out.”

Fox, an atheist at the time, started going to Trammell with questions about religion. He didn’t know many Christians, and Trammell never judged him, he said.

Eventually Fox converted to Christianity. He credits Trammell for those early eye-opening conversations that challenged his stereotypes on what people of faith looked and acted like.

Trammell “gave freedom to everyone’s voice,” said Clayton Hotelling, a Milwaukee pastor and social worker. “It didn’t matter where you were from.”

In the 1990s Hotelling used to read eXpressions Journal and even submitted his artwork to the publication a few times. He appreciated that Trammell gave a platform to opinions of all kinds without judgment — the willingness to hear someone out has been lost in today’s political discourse, he said.

Hotelling was driving with a friend on the east side two days before Trammell’s death and saw him on the sidewalk holding a Trump sign. Hotelling honked his horn, and Trammell gave them a thumbs-up.

“It touched our heart because that was the last time we saw him,” Hotelling said.

Bernell Trammell of Milwaukee takes a photo with his cellphone while with son, Bernell Trammell Jr., 7, at a control burn at Alice Bertschy Kadish Park in Milwaukee on May 7, 2013. Trammell was fatally shot outside his office in Riverwest on July 23, 2020.
Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Patricia Holland also saw Trammell shortly before his death — she estimates about 30 minutes prior.

Holland maintains church gardens in Riverwest and headed last Thursday to Trammell’s shop to plant some flowers in his new flower beds. She left him laughing, promising to water the plants that evening.

Then from her home Holland heard what she thought were firecrackers. She followed police cars to the scene and saw paramedics performing CPR. But she knew Trammell hadn’t made it.

“A whole chill came over me,” she said.

Trammell deserves for his killer to be found, Holland said. Somebody in the neighborhood knows something, she said, pointing to the surrounding apartments and homes.

And Trammell deserves for his legacy to live on. Lombardi, who lived with Trammell in the 1990s in the apartment above his office, plans to buy the building on East Wright Street. 

She wants to continue publishing eXpressions Journal. Trammell’s voice may have been silenced, but he’d want Milwaukee to keep talking.

Contact Sophie Carson at (414) 223-5512 or scarson@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SCarson_News.

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