by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
face recognition, privacy

Is Facebook's Facial Recognition That Scary?

from the how-so? dept

There has been some concern here and there about Facebook's face recognition technology, though I will admit that I still don't see it as being that concerning. It only works on people who you're already listed as being "friends" with -- not just randomly identifying people in crowds or anything. As such, it seems more like a handy tool for better providing info in images. Some have raised issues about Facebook opening it up beyond just friends, or potentially exposing ID info in photos to others, like advertisers. And while Facebook has a reputation for changing its privacy terms in ways that freak people out -- and which possibly expose info that people originally thought was private -- I'm still missing why the face recognition is so problematic. It's no different than what a user would/could do right now -- identifying an individual in a photo and tagging them. If facial recognition is a concern, why isn't that (human) action just as concerning? Both involve connecting an image to a name.

Perhaps I'm missing something -- and I fully expect readers here to clarify exactly what it is in the comments.

It certainly seems like governments around the globe also think that there are problems with the facial recognition -- and they may act on it. Here in the US, Senator Franken quizzed a Facebook exec on this issue. He properly noted that Facebook doesn't do a particularly good job disclosing that the facial recognition technology is there -- and that's something that could be improved. But is that a legal violation?

The bigger issue, though, may be over in Europe where there are a variety of investigations of the technology going on -- with Ireland and Norway leading the way and expressing concerns. Europe, of course, takes privacy rights against companies to a different level than we do in the US, though that sometimes leads to wacky, nonsensical outcomes, like German residents being able to blur their houses on Google Street View. But of course, the fact that anyone driving down the street can see what's there is ignored. It feels somewhat similar with facial recognition. If you're in a picture, you're in a picture. A human can identify you. Is there a major difference if a computer can also identify you?

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  1. icon
    Machin Shin (profile), 10 Aug 2012 @ 8:02am

    The issue I have is not with facebook using it to tag photos. The issue I have is that they are building such a database. They will hold a data base with all the recognition data. This could then later be taken and used for other uses.

    As for why this is different than people using it. Well the government could not pay hundreds of people to watch video feeds looking for people. It is very possible to have a computer analyze video feed picking faces out of groups once you have all the recognition data.

    So is what they are doing now a worry for me? No, not really, But I am worried about the potential for abuse in the future. It is far to easy for someone later to say "we could have stopped this murderer if we had a system to spot his face and find him sooner" or "It would have helped us catch him quicker if we could have ID him from the video by comparing it to this data base"

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