Facebook has begun rolling out facial recognition in UK Facebook accounts and at the same time has made the default privacy settings in your account: “Suggest photos of me to friends”.
Facial recognition in Facebook was designed to make it easier for users to tag friends when they upload photos to their own account. Unless you change your account settings to disable face recognition, Facebook now automatically scans the faces in all uploaded images and tries to identify you within them. Friends are then encouraged to tag you in their photos.
Why should that bother you? It’s just a bit of fun isn’t it?
There are two issues here.
First is that Facebook does not give you the right to pre-approve tags that friends add. You may be tagged in any photo, however intimate, embarrassing or inappropriate it might be. If you do not wish to be tagged, you have to make the effort to untag yourself… after the photo has gone live.
Secondly, this addition to the tagging process means that Facebook can build a database in which millions of named individuals are matched up with photographs. Facebook stresses that this only works within your own circle of friends… so where’s the harm?
The danger lies in this being the thin end of the wedge. At one time Facebook insisted that they were not about selling advertising… there has clearly been a change of policy there. What if the policy regarding facial regognition is extended to allow you to identify the people at the party you photographed that you didn’t know? From there it’s a small step to someone uploading an image taken on a camera phone and finding a name for a total stranger.
Facebook is not the only online company exploring the value of face recognition software. Google, the most widely-used search engine company, recently filed a patent for “Automatically Mining Person Models of Celebrities for Visual Search Applications”. In effect this is a computerised celebrity spotter which will identify celebrities in any photo or video.
Since celebrities, by definition, are so well known that they may be fairly easily identified anyway, this might not seem too much of an issue. But what if the technique is applied to absolutely anyone? If CCTV images from the street could be compared to vast databases of named photos, then all privacy is lost…
At present, face recognition software is not very accurate. A computer needs to see a face directly and be able to take measurements in order to make an identification. But the more practice computers get, the more adept they will become and hence the dangers inherent in permitting a vast organisation such as Facebook or Google to slip the technology into our lives under the guise of “fun”.
To help protect your privacy, now’s the time to go into your Facebook settings and disable “Suggest photos of me to friends”.
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