Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Facing Up To Facebook

Facial Recognition software used to be the stuff of spy thrillers.
Now it’s in common use, everywhere from border security to building access... even to identifying a deceased high-value resident of a certain Pakistani mansion. But did you know Facebook uses it too?
Facebook scans faces in the photogaphs you upload, and tries to recognise other users. True!
Facebook looks at all the shining smiles and searches for matches in its slightly creepy database of faces. If it sees someone it thinks is one of your friends, it asks you if you want to "tag" them in the photo.
As if that isn’t dodgy enough, Facebook has started including users in this service without actually telling them and - just as importantly - without giving them the choice of deciding whether they’re interested. So just by uploading pix to Facebook, everyone's part of the programme!
As you know, your images are kept in a centralised storage that can be accessed and matched at a second's notice. Is that a real hazard? Probably not but, in principle, it's a bit disturbing. Remember, that information stays available…forever.
To be fair, Facebook did announce the partial launch of its facial recognition programme late last year (remember how that launch came with its own set of privacy problems?). What's new now is that Facebook has rolled out the feature to more users in more countries - without first giving them a heads-up…and everyone was included by default.
Once again, it’s said “Opps, sorry”, but this is becoming a bad habit! How many times can it act first and clean up the mess later?
Facebook is a massive global service that people trust with their personal data. I suggest if it can’t/won’t give priority to users’ privacy, that trust may be misplaced. Caveat emptor.

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