Face recognition – dangerous stuff?

There are a fair few blogs elsewhere on the potential dangers in face recognition, but here is another one to read.

Several months ago, it was rumoured that Google would add it to their search. Immediately people started to see dangers in it and the potential damage to privacy too. I tend to agree, it is a very dangerous technology. Google decided in the end not to, not yet anyway, but as Google said, even if they are good enough not to introduce it, someone else eventually would, and they were right. Since then, Facebook have been meddling with it, and apparently showed enormous irresponsibility by introducing it without warning users, and without automatically disabling the feature in privacy settings by default. The reaction should have been obvious before they did so, and they were justifiably widely condemned. Keeping it only accessible to ‘friends’ offers little protection, most of us don’t know half our Facebook ‘friends’ anyway. It is just easier to accept friendship than suffer the social embarrassment of admitting you have no idea who that  person is you might or might not have met yesterday. Facebook knows that very well.

Soon, you will be able to use face recognition software to find out who someone is just by pointing your phone camera at them. A quick play on an app and you will also know who they work for, where they live, their contact details, what dating sites they may be on, what they say on their blogs and tweets and even casual comments in forums, whether they are free or in a relationship, how good they are at games, and so on. Face recognition will help link together a great many sites that can’t easily be linked purely via text searches.

Other software may allow it to take account of ageing, so that you could scan in an old photo and check out historic contacts.

I think in many cases, it will be harmless fun, and may make it slightly easier to tag photos on friends on facebook, but the dangers are very high. We can be fairly certain that school-kids would immediately try to track down their teachers to find embarrassing pics they would prefer to keep hidden. We can be fairly sure that people will use it to try to identify people coming into their area, matching them with pictures from previous sex offences, or indeed any other bad behaviour, whether the associated people were found guilty or not. I also have no doubt it will bring an end to many a relationship when people see compromising pics of their partners.

And it won’t be 100% accurate, so a great many people who look a bit like someone who might have been guilty will also get tarnished.  Mis-identification will be as big a problem as correct identification. My photo appears a lot on Google. I haven’t been involved in anything especially embarrassing or naughty. But I have no idea how many people out there have who might look a bit like me, and with whom I might be confused. Some of the photos out already there confuse me with Ian Pearson the ex-government minister even though we look nothing like each other. Proof enough that we can’t assume it will be correct.

It is bad enough being confused with a Labour minister, I certainly don’t want confused with a paedophile or shoplifter or mugger, and for all I know there may well be some that look a bit like me. And even from a marketing perspective, having adverts targeted at me based on my own profile is bad enough, getting ones that are really intended for someone else will be worse still.

I would love to balance this piece as I usually do with enthusiasm for the massive benefits, showing that technology will make our lives better. In this case, the benefits I can think of are all relatively small, and associated with finding criminals or tracking benefits cheats. But they already have enough sense to wear masks  and in any case, heading down that road is far too 1984ish for my taste.

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