Watch your Face

Monday, August 20th, 2012

I just read a rather disturbing article on GOOD tonight —

“Facial-Recognition App Enables Next-Level Web-Stalking”

A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have conducted a study that tests the powers of facial-recognition software – how much can it recognize and what access to personal information can this recognition enable?

Too much, it seems:

“Using store-bought [facial recognition] software, cloud computing, and publicly available information from social networking sites, the team was able to gather data about people, sometimes even their Social Security numbers, just by pointing a camera at them.”

The study uses personal information gathered from online dating sites and Facebook accounts.

While I am not active in the online-dating scene, I use Facebook almost every day, and have exactly 367 tagged photos of myself available for all my “Friends” to see. For other reasons, I’ve already been whittling my “Friends” list down and untagging the less-than-professional photographs I’d like to disassociate myself from — but this process has been slow and laissez-faire. Let me tell you, it’s about to get a whole lot more intensive.

Then again, will this do much good? What real control do we have against these new technologies, especially if they get into the hands of people with governmental power or malicious intent? As the article suggests, “Perhaps its time you stopped allowing people to tag you in photos on Facebook”. I’ve read through the Facebook Help Centre’s “Tagging” guide, though, and I don’t think it is actually possible to stop your friends from tagging you. Any of your friends can tag you. While you can choose to prevent posts or photos in which you are tagged from your profile, you cannot remove your name from the information with which it has been associated. Is this a problem? I think so.

In light of this study’s findings, then, what is Facebook’s responsibility?

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