Facial Recognition Technology and Privacy

7 Dec ’05

Jennifer Granick writes in Wired about the inevitable erosion of privacy from the facial recognition technology used by Riya:

Mothers could search MySpace.com and find pictures of their children at a party when they were supposed to be studying at a friend’s house. Insurers could search and find a photo of a customer bungee-jumping, and raise the daredevil’s premiums. I predict that the tool will be invaluable to former (and future) boyfriends and girlfriends checking up on lovers.

In the analog days, when you left your house, there was always a possibility that you might run into someone who would remember what you were doing, and tell anyone who cared enough to ask. In a digital world, you do not know if someone is taking your picture — with a camera, a webcam or a cell phone — and the image can be stored forever and searched by people you do not know, at any point in time, without your knowledge and at little or no cost to the searcher.

Riya has a tart answer to user privacy concerns. If you do not want to be indexed, do not let anyone post any photos of you. This is easier said than done. Also, the response falsely assumes that being seen has the same privacy implications as being identified. It does not.

If someone posts a photo that includes me, people who see the photo will see my face, but they almost certainly will have no idea who I am. If the photo is tagged with my name, a stranger who likes the way I look can then find out more about me. A prospective employer looking for more information about me can search my name and find the picture.

I suppose this means there would be value in having a Riya account that includes photos of yourself (well, of anyone, really), with an RSS feed (do they do that? Perhaps they should …) to track any new matching photos that appear on the service. Hmmm – perhaps there’s a deal with Cheaters in this.

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