The second report on the current state of privacy relates to Facebook’s not-yet-deployed facial recognition software.
Our relation to our images has changed faster than almost else in the digital world. At one time, we sat down, dressed up, got our pictures taken, the pictures were carefully curated, and these sat in photo albums under the coffee table. Today, we live in a world of smartphones, and our images are no longer scarce, posting them online is default behavior, and we have little control over when the pictures are taken or their subsequent distribution.
The one last privacy vestige of the image glut is that we remained anonymous to viewers who didn’t know us. Automatic tagging — as Facebook has the potential to do — adds to the further permanent “timeline” of our lives as the data is combined with the offline databases noted in the prior post to form a more complete picture (literally) of us that can be easily accessed. With automatic tagging, we lose control of what images of us are out there and how far those images are distributed, two of the metrics of privacy. Essentially, others can create picture books of us, even without us knowing.
Further, with the merging of databases discussed in the last post, these virtual picturebooks can be connected to other data. We lose control of how those images could be used to interact with us in our daily lives. So, for example, pictures could be used to track us in the real world even more closely — “That’s Jim Smith in Aisle 9 of Walmart, he has a bachelor party tonight, so send him some advertisements for his favorite brand of beer.”
Europe has temporarily said no to Facebook turning on its facial recognition capabilities; the US has no position on it.