Russia Provides Glimpse Of A Future Where Powerful Facial Recognition Technology Has Abolished Public Anonymity

from the are-we-really-ready-for-that? dept

As hardware and software advance, so facial recognition becomes more accurate and more attractive as a potential solution to various problems. Techdirt first wrote about this area back in 2012, when Facebook had just started experimenting with facial recognition (now we're at the inevitable lawsuit stage). Since then, we've reported on an increasing number of organizations exploring the use of facial recognition, including the FBI, the NSA, Boston police and even the church. But all of those pale in comparison to what is happening in Russia, reported here by the Guardian:

FindFace, launched two months ago and currently taking Russia by storm, allows users to photograph people in a crowd and work out their identities, with 70% reliability.

It works by comparing photographs to profile pictures on Vkontakte, a social network popular in Russia and the former Soviet Union, with more than 200 million accounts. In future, the designers imagine a world where people walking past you on the street could find your social network profile by sneaking a photograph of you, and shops, advertisers and the police could pick your face out of crowds and track you down via social networks.
One of FindFace's founders, Alexander Kabakov, points out the service could have a big impact on dating:
"If you see someone you like, you can photograph them, find their identity, and then send them a friend request." The interaction doesn't always have to involve the rather creepy opening gambit of clandestine street photography, he added: "It also looks for similar people. So you could just upload a photo of a movie star you like, or your ex, and then find 10 girls who look similar to her and send them messages."
Definitely not creepy at all.

Of course, a 70% hit rate isn't that good: perhaps FindFace isn't really such a threat to public anonymity. The trouble is, the Guardian article reports that the company has performed three million searches on its database of around a billion photographs using just four common-or-garden servers. It's easy to imagine what might be achieved with some serious hardware upgrades, along with tweaks to the software, or with access to even bigger, more complete databases. For example government ones: according to the Guardian, FindFace's founders think the big money will come from selling their system to "law enforcement and retail." Although they've not yet been contacted by Russia's FSB security agency, they say they'd be happy to listen to offers from them. Perhaps comforted by the thought of all that future business coming his way, Kabakov is philosophical about the social implications of his company's technology:

"In today’s world we are surrounded by gadgets. Our phones, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us. Already we have full data on people's movements, their interests and so on. A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that."
That may well be true. But the question is, are we ready to do so?

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:03pm

    No, we are not ready to do so

    Frankly, I would say a 70% hit rate is amazing for a first product. It will only get better. Imagine if you hooked this up to the DMV where you have much better photos (well, in the US anyway, I don't know what Russia has).

    My suggestion is everyone randomly tag people in photos in social media. Everyone like and subscribe to every possible group, hate/terror/whatever. Every person randomly search for stuff that they aren't interested in. Eventually we could create enough noise that all the data is worthless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    I.T. Guy, 17 May 2016 @ 12:06pm

    "If you see someone you like"
    Way to sell it to dumb men. Sure guys, that all we will use it for I promise.
    It' amazing how easy it is to sell someone their own enslavement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    I.T. Guy, 17 May 2016 @ 12:07pm

    Re:

    My contractions are broken today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:09pm

    "A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that."

    Ever notice how those organizations promoting the falsehood that "privacy is dead" seem to have their profit model based on privacy being dead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:14pm

    Re:

    Also notice that one of the main people who say that, Zuckerberg, has purchased or purchased the right of first refusal, all the property around them to maintain their own privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:19pm

    Re:

    The Democratic party has perfected that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:24pm

    Of course, like ALPR databases, this capability is already available to the privileged.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:27pm

    "Although they've not yet been contacted by Russia's FSB security agency, they say they'd be happy to listen to offers from them."


    It would appear that Russia's government agencies might be many years behind the United States, where the FBI, NSA, CIA and other agencies have reportedly developed their own facial-recognition databases that already harvest and catalog everything posted on social networking sites like Facebook.

    It's odd that something that's already been going on for many years behind closed doors only becomes "creepy" when people can see it in action with their own eyes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re:

    Of course, it's only the peons that need to accept that privacy is out of the question, the privileged still expect their privacy to be upheld and defended.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:31pm

    It's time for masks to come back whenever someone is in public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 12:50pm

    Re:

    When was this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Violynne (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 12:51pm

    That may well be true. But the question is, are we ready to do so?
    So long as the public is ready to clink three same-colored jewels together to reap a score, the answer to this question is "The rest of us are now screwed" (aka: yes).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Re:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Mat (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 1:17pm

    Re:

    I think it only becomes creepy to most people because until then, it's not something they can observe. Now, when it starts leaking all over in undeniable ways, THEN things get interesting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 1:17pm

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on May 17th, 2016 @ 12:31pm

    Take a walk around Tokyo in flu season. Everyone in rocking a surgical mask to prevent contanimation. I'm sure you can come up with an epidemic to justify a mask. Or claim a game of thrones LARPing session and sport full plate armor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Yakko Warner (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 1:50pm

    These might become very popular

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 1:55pm

    Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on May 17th, 2016 @ 12:31pm

    >Everyone in rocking a surgical mask to prevent contamination

    Not a bad idea, especially with all these dormant cyber pathogens around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Personanongrata, 17 May 2016 @ 1:55pm

    Dystopia Here We Are

    "In today’s world we are surrounded by gadgets. Our phones, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us. Already we have full data on people's movements, their interests and so on. A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that."

    What a world living under the unblinking spotlight of technology 24/7/365 -- yuck.

    Can anyone say dystopian nightmare?

    I like my privacy. I need my privacy. I do not want to live in the spotlight of technology the shady bend in the river works just fine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 3:16pm

    i dont understand why people keep denying that we are actually heading towards a similar future that WWll would have given if the 'other side' had won! and it's not just with the various governments, it's the security forces! every one of them is getting more and more anti-public freedom and privacy and in favor of ridiculous laws and more severe behavior! no one really stands a chance, regardless of whether they have done anything wrong or not because charges are engineered and the 'suspect' found guilty at every opportunity! and you can bet who is controlling those forces, it's the ones with money, wanting to turn the planet into a giant corporation where profit is everything and no one else has a single right!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 3:50pm

    Re:

    It would appear that Russia's government agencies might be many years behind the United States,


    No, the more likely result is that a number of people at Russia's bovernment agencies got a good laugh out if it and moved on. They've had this technology longer than the US has. Putin went all-in on Internet-based information management.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 5:26pm

    Re:

    The belief "it can't happen here" blinds people to reality.

    Instead of being on guard against danger they are complacent that nothing bad will ever happen to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 5:43pm

    Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on May 17th, 2016 @ 12:31pm

    If the purpose of the mask was to make a political statement would it not be constitutionally protected speech?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 7:25pm

    Outlaw Tracking

    Tracking people should be outlawed, except for law enforcement with a warrant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    nasch (profile), 18 May 2016 @ 7:11pm

    Re: No, we are not ready to do so

    My suggestion is everyone randomly tag people in photos in social media. Everyone like and subscribe to every possible group, hate/terror/whatever. Every person randomly search for stuff that they aren't interested in. Eventually we could create enough noise that all the data is worthless.

    I wonder if anyone has written a script to do that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 7:50pm

    Re: No, we are not ready to do so

    Eventually we could create enough noise that all the data is worthless.

    Eventually the government would have excuses to imprison anyone, anytime it wanted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 19 May 2016 @ 5:43am

    Re: Re:

    Whatever makes you think that Tweedledumb is the only party that does this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 19 May 2016 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Re: No, we are not ready to do so

    The government already can. All they have to do is call you a terrorist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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