Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Facial Recognition on Facebook

From ReadWriteWeb,
This morning, Face.com announced that they're bringing advanced facial recognition technology to Facebook by way of a new application called Photo Finder. Using proprietary facial scanning algorithms, this application scans through your photos and those public photos belonging to your friends in order to identity and suggest tags for the untagged people within them. The results of these scans are highly accurate - almost frighteningly so - and should lead to some interesting discoveries as the app spreads through Facebook when it finally becomes public.
You can read the rest of the piece here ...

There are obviously alot of potential privacy concerns with this application. According to the article, "the company has taken great strides to make sure that its application respects your privacy." While it does appear the company has established a menu of "privacy controls" in the application, as we've discussed in class these controls can never fully prevent issues of distortion and secondary use.

What are your thoughts? Would you install this type of application on your facebook profile?


Pia said...

Okay, this is a bit creepy. First off, untagged pictures are often untagged pictures for a reason. Secondly, the fact that it goes through not only your photos but also your friends' photos seems a bit out of line. Sure your friends posted them on Facebook, but they meant for them to be shared with people, not scanned and analyzed by a computer algorithm. It's kind of similar to the uneasiness people had over the Prop 8 Maps...the information is all out there, but taking it a step further is debatable. That being said, what really set my creep-o-meter off was the part that Photo Finder happily advertises as the "Watch List," where you can easily stalk all your closest friends...

galina.olmsted said...

I agree with Pia, this application is creepy, and additionally, I don't really see the added value. Your pictures will be scoured and tagged, and then visible only through the application itself. I don't have a vested interest in finding pictures that might have slipped through the cracks over the years... I don't see the value added there.
This application has the same entertainment value as the Google tracker functions. I guess if you and your friends thinks that this technology is entertaining, then it's valuable, but it's not really a threat to privacy because it requires you to download the application, but does it mean I'm going to be autotagged by the application if my friends add the application? I'm not really interested in sorting through my notifications and untagging homecoming pictures from three or four years ago. So long as there is some way to block the application, I don't see a real problem here. There might be entertainment value in seeing which of your friends look alike, but otherwise I don't really see the appeal.
I don't see this as a real threat to privacy because it is a voluntary service, not even essential to Facebook itself. There are certainly other, larger privacy issues lurking under the surface at www.facebook.com, and I think that this one is marginalized in comparison. So long as the function can be disabled, I don't mind if my friends get a laugh out of seeing me misidentified or mislabeled as another friend.

Kristen said...

I don’t think I would install this application on facebook. I think the thing that really creeps me out is that somewhere on the internet there is going to be something that will be able to connect information about the dimensions of my face with my name. I’m assuming that if my friends add the application and my face pops up as an unidentified person, they will be able to let the program know who I am… and I’m not sure how excited I am about that. I think it is just scary that a friend can take a picture of me, put it online without my knowledge, and then (again without my knowledge) tell this application that the face it identified is mine. If this program does prove a threat to privacy, it’s scary that I won’t be able to take steps to protect myself. Also, now that we’re learning about how easy it is for hackers to steal information, I’m worried that the data the application uses to recognize and identify individual faces will not be stored securely enough.

Jake said...

To me, this issue over privacy in this new Facebook feature epitomizes the unreasonable stance that many have towards privacy on Facebook. Facebook is a private company which we voluntarily utilize, and in doing so Facebook then obtains the rights to anything and everything we put on their website (in accordance with the terms of use, which we are presented with prior to enlisting the service). Certainly, every Facebook user recognizes this and understands that this means each individual is responsible for the content on the website. However, the idea that Facebook is using software to help us identify our friends in the pictures we put up, or ourselves in the pictures posted by our friends is somehow suddenly seen as “creepy”, “invasive” and a threat to our privacy. How? This intuition seems incredibly misguided and unreasoned.
The scariest prospect of this new feature is most likely the possibility that your friends will photograph you and place a picture on Facebook of you that you would otherwise not want there, and then this service would recognize you and suggest a “tag” of your name to the picture. To further present this as the scariest possible result of this scenario, lets assume that these now newly-tagged photos are seen by someone and taken and used for secondary purposes. So the end result of this feature is that now, someone has a photo of you that they would not have (likely) found otherwise.
This is certainly a concern worth having; however, is Facebook at fault in this equation? One might blame Facebook for enabling this possibility, suggesting that Facebook provided the capacity for this occurrence. But the fault is first and foremost that of the individual photographed. If one wants to avoid such a scenario, simply don’t allow yourself to be photographed, or ask your friend not to put that photograph on Facebook. More importantly, rather than worrying about what you might get photographed doing, you ought simply not to engage in behavior that you would worry about others seeing.
The logical reply to this would be to argue that you can’t control your friend’s actions, and they might take a picture of you without your knowledge or against your will and put it on Facebook in a similar manner. But clearly this is not the fault of Facebook, rather it is up to each individual to carefully choose who they associate with. This response clearly demonstrates that the underlying issue is that people don’t trust all of their friends, which is in no way Facebook’s fault.

Brian G. said...

I have recently grown critical of Facebook.com both after taking this class and witnessing their recent attempts to include a “perpetual worldwide license” in their privacy policies. Their partnership with Face.com only furthers my concern. Aside from the issue I have with them profiting off of my pictures, facial recognition technology on Facebook weakens its user’s ability to protect their privacy.

The two biggest privacy harms caused by with Face.com are identification and distortion. Random individuals who cross into the line of sight of a camera are suddenly easily identifiable. The “Watch List” function only improves upon Facebook’s use as the “ultimate stalking tool”. Since the vast majority of college students are on Facebook, strangers in the backgrounds of parties can now be identified and watched. I do not want to worry every time a flash goes off at a party that I have been mistakenly captured. The “if you are not doing anything bad, then you have nothing to hide” argument does little to console me. Pictures can be easily taken out of context and are open to interpretation. It is disconcerting that my face can be scanned and identified by a person I do not even know with potentially far-reaching consequences.

I think the provision of free easy-to-use facial recognition software greatly damages privacy. The article acknowledges that if you are auto-tagged you can subsequently remove the tag although this does not really solve the problem. Privacy is already harmed the minute a previously anonymous individual is identified by a Face.com user. I think that Facebook should allow for the option to opt out of Face.com entirely to prevent your photos or your face from ever being scanned in the first place.

Brian S said...

I personally would instill this application as it makes it more convenient to tag photos but especially albums, which can be somewhat tedious. Despite saying that though, this application is definitely kind of creepy as mentioned by other people. If certain people are untagged in a picture that may be for a reason whether or not they are doing something stupid or the might just not like the way they look in a particular shot. Nevertheless, Facebook puts the privacy control in one's own hands. Everyone still has the ability to untag photos tagged of them through this application, and everyone can set their privacy settings in such a way that friends or outsiders wouldn't even be able to see their tagged photos. Of course these tagged photos would still remain on the internet in some regard, but by being a Facebook user everyone should expect to give up some form of their privacy. Facebook is a social networking site and as such one's privacy is already somewhat compromised. Issues may arise when the face-recognition software makes occasional mistakes and accidentally tags the wrong person, but these issues one would assume to be easily solvable. This could also act as a major benefit for job enforcement situations where people could merely take a picture of a culprit and upload the picture onto facebook,which should be able to recognize the person given that he/she has a facebook account as well as this application. Overall, this isn't a much bigger privacy issue as those raised by Facebook before.

Asma Rafi said...

Check out my blogpost on the topic; Face Recognition Technology and Privacy Concerns at http://blogs.itworldcanada.com/idol/2009/04/24/face-recognition-app-for-facebook-photo-finder-by-facecom/.