Facebook Facial Recognition a Privacy Issue?

Facebook recently announced it’s facial recognition software and so shouts of “Privacy Issues” are screaming across the blogosphere. But how much of a privacy issue is it?  The statement used by Facebook, “We’ve automatically grouped similar pictures”. Background, lighting, and other elements of the image can be used to group similar pictures.  In fact, Techcrunch reported that “Google researchers published a paper describing progress they are making in teaching computers how to identify famous landmarks” in a post dated June 22, 2009. Granted this isn’t facial recognition software they are developing, but the momentous task of identifying faces is equivalent if not greater than identifying landmarks.

Facebook’s spokes person is being anything but clear as to what level they are taking this. This statement given, “It’s pretty standard technology that is already out there,” would suggest it’s not an ID system. Identifying people is not a standard technology.  Face.com has been working on developing this technology for some time.  However, face recognition is a common technology.  Many digital cameras quickly and easily identify a face within the frame.  Two eyes, a nose and mouth grouped closely together are pretty easy to find.

Having said that, Facebook could be a learning system with potential to breach facial identification.  Apple has provided a face recognition software that allows tagging with their iPhoto since 2009. Apple’s software does begin to identify faces that you tag regularly. The more you tag an individual the easier it is for the computer to identify and auto suggest an individual, not just a face. When tagging with iPhoto, the program can also find/sort images on your computer for that individual’s face. They also allow places tagging. The cool part is that you can search your photos by places or faces. So to say that Facebook can’t do it would not be an accurate statement either. And even if they cannot do it now, who is to say that they won’t go back and do it later once the technology is perfected?

And for those that want to believe it’s a violation of their privacy and the Big Brother Skynet is just around the corner, Justin Mitchele does state “…to match your new photos to other photos you’re tagged in. We group similar photos together and, whenever possible, suggest the name of the friend in the photos.” So is Facebook creating identification software? The common link in the facebook suggest is you. It connects you to your friends. Connecting you to a random photo of you on the internet taken by a stranger is still a long way off. Without significant input from human users that can teach the facial recognition software with whom to link the image, facial recognition software used to identify individuals is still a light-year away.

Testing the Facebook Identification Software

So far the software is not available for all users. I did get a quick sneak peek and this is screen shot of them grouping Arnie’s photo together.

Photos from AZIMA meet up. | "Who is this?"

The fact that it grouped Arnie’s images together at the top is not too alarming as it could be attributed to the lighting, background, and sequence. But Arnie’s profile image was also in sequence and the lighting background is similar. Further David Mihm’s profile image following Arnie’s was not grouped in. With these as indicators, the software is certainly more sophisticated than a simple face recognition program. The software very well could be a photo identification/privacy nightmare.

Although I must admit that I did appreciate the auto rotation Facebook threw in with their new program. Yes, they now have auto horizontal/vertical image rotation. Man I love time saving inventions.  Just wish I knew how to bank that time saved.

Thomas Ballantyne
“Don’t mind me, I am just the pest control guy.”
Find me on twitter @Thos003

10 thoughts on “Facebook Facial Recognition a Privacy Issue?

  1. Dan Cristo says:

    First off, it scares me that this stuff is even possible. That being said, Facebook is not the government. Every user on Facebook is there because they gave their information to the Zuck. If people are afraid this level of information and power could be used in a way that could harm them then they have 2 options. Delete their FB account, like I did, or accept the risks.

    Thankfully Facebook will be long gone by the time my unborn kids are old enough to log on to a computer. Unfortunally, we’ll probably have something 10x worse.

  2. Thos003 says:

    Absolutely agree with you, Facebook is private property and you are agreeing to Zuck’s rules… if he is willing to sell out his friend what chance do you have as a stranger?

    But, as I still use Facebook, I am accepting that risk. I understand those risks. Although, I don’t believe most people understand what those risks are. With what little tech savvy-ness as I have compared to guys like Zuck, I can still find out way more information about people online than they realize.

  3. kirsty says:

    I thought at first that this facebook facial recognition is fun and I really enjoyed it. But now after reading your opinion on it, it scares me a bit and hoping that this should end. Or I hope it will privatize only to friends list.

  4. Mark says:

    It is incredible how Facebook has grown to be a force of reckoning in the past five years. I agree with Dan Cristo that we are in Zuckerman’s world if we are on Facebook. Privacy may be a concern, but at the same time, it adds marketing potential.

  5. Kim says:

    Guess what? Facebook face detection is probably start of another way to search images using a face detection method. If search engines like Google allow searching images like that, it can really put anyone in trouble. It is tough technology though.

  6. spammy name says:

    @infoomatic haha! right!

    But I guess, what facebook developer must integrate is the option to allow or at least approved first those friends who wants to tag your photo.

  7. Shiva @ Webmaster Tips says:

    Well I have not been able to check out the facial recognition since currently it is US only but from whatever I read from your post, it really does sound unique as well as scary. But well at the end like infoomatic said, everybody will still be using Facebook.

  8. allison says:

    I agree with Kirsty. It does seem fun and interesting, but also scary at the same time. I have read that Facebook has big plans for the future and is due to be the next Google, and for this to happen, they really need to repair their reputation and trust issues with users. I am interested to watch the rise or demise of Facebook.

  9. Sue says:

    My concern is with the children that use facebook. Some pedo could get a hold of your childs photo, put it into the program and then find out who they are. Facebook have set their age limit to 13+ so need to be a little more responsible and careful on what they introduce. I for one would not let my child onto facebook however there are many that do and we all know that these sick pedophiles are using facebook as a way to find their next victim.

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