New York City tenants concerned over new virtual doorman systems

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Could your next doorman be a computer?

A growing number of landlords in New York City are considering installing new facial recognition and virtual doorman technology in their buildings.

The systems vary by company. Some use remote employees at central command centers to oversee several buildings, while others rely more heavily on artificial intelligence to analyze facial features and prevent or deny entry.

Companies market the systems as safety and efficiency tools, but many tenants faced with their implementation have concerns.

"That is completely ridiculous and unacceptable," said Adam Meller, who lives in a luxury building in Long Island City that recently announced plans to replace an overnight doorman with a virtual system. "What happens if it breaks and no one is here to fix it overnight? I mean, anyone could just walk into the building or be locked out."

His complex formed a tenant association to fight the service changes proposed by management.

The Property Service Workers Union also opposes the move and expressed concern the new technology could cost thousands of people their jobs.

"It's horrible," said Gus Gomez, a former doorman at Meller's building who said he was let go around the same time management announced plans for a virtual system. "It's scary and it's not safe for the tenants."

Tenant concerns include questions about safety and privacy.

In Brooklyn, tenants in another high rise building serving low income tenants are fighting a similar move and have filed a formal complaint with the state.

"I just think it is an invasion of privacy," said Osose Ebesunun, who worried about how the facial recognition technology would use and store data regarding her appearance and habits coming and going from her apartment. "Things leak no matter what companies say. Nobody is going to know where this information is going."

Other tenants question the effectiveness of artificial intelligence.

While the technology is largely accurate among white men, a study by MIT found it's much less accurate identifying minorities and failed roughly one in three times trying to identify dark-skinned women.

"It's discriminatory in its outcomes," said New York Assembly Member Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, who filed a bill to prohibit the use of facial recognition by landlords. "It's just a scary situation across the board...Within in your home, where you have an expectation of privacy, I think those privacy rights should be respected."

Not everyone is opposed to the technology.

In the Bronx, one affordable housing complex is already using facial recognition technology to control entry into the building.

Tenants in that building moved in after the technology was already installed.

"You look at the camera and it opens the door," said a tenant who asked to go only by her first name, Miracle. "I don't have no issue with it."

Tenants opposed to the technology said they accept remote monitoring and facial recognition technology may be the way of the future, but for now their doorman is one area they're not willing to accept a high tech take over.

"It's the human touch that you don't get with a virtual doorman system," Rich Fogal said. "We're not asking for much really, except for our voices to be heard."

At Heis24 in Long Island City, the landlords have agreed to reinstate an overnight doorman in response to tenant outrage, but tenants say they have not removed the virtual system.

Building management declined comment.

In Brooklyn, at Atlantic Plaza Towers, tenants are waiting for the state's decision to their formal complaint requesting the landlord be blocked from implementing the new system.

A spokesperson from Nelson Management Group released the following statement regarding the tenant's challenge and the proposal for facial recognition software.

"Nelson Management Group prioritizes identifying and implementing cutting edge technology at all our properties to create a safer environment for tenants and provide the highest-quality housing in the rent-stabilized market. The sole goal of implementing this technology is to advance that priority and support the safety and security of resident. We have yet to install anything having to do with a facial recognition system. We have engaged a leading provider of security technology for proposed upgrades, which has assured ownership that data collected is never exposed to third parties and is fully encrypted. We appreciate engagement from tenants on this matter and look forward to feedback from DHCR. As always, we will comply with DHCR's recommendations and keep tenants updated on implementation should we move forward with this upgrade in security technology."

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