Law in the Internet Society

Who Owns Your Face?

-- By NatalieYoukel - 01 Nov 2015


Today, the face has become what the fingerprint was. Every face is comprised of a distinct set of characteristics ranging from the shape of your nose, to the distance between your eyes, to the pattern of your lips. There are no two faces alike.

As our lives have become increasingly digitalized, the method in which people communicate has drastically changed. Today, people “Like,” “Share,” and “Post” statements and images across social media websites in order to keep friends, family, and the public updated on life’s moments. But has anyone stopped to think about what happens to the photographs that they upload onto these social media websites? And how these photographs will impact the future of their existence?

Companies such as Facebook, Google, Shutterfly, and LinkedIn? have. In fact, these companies have acquired facial recognition technology that runs each and every photograph that is uploaded through an algorithm that mathematically identifies and tags the unique characteristics of the face.

You Can’t Hide From Mark Zuckerberg

In the summer of 2010, Facebook launched its facial recognition “Tag Suggestions” feature. “Tag Suggestions” was introduced by default, forcing any Facebook user who noticed its implementation and disliked the feature to opt-out through a hard-to-find link. The “Tag Suggestions” feature encourages users, every time a photograph is uploaded, to “tag” the people in the photograph. Using facial recognition software, Facebook provides identifying names for the individuals it recognizes in the photograph. Facebook then associates the tags with that named individuals account, compares what the tagged photographs have in common, and then stores a summary of the comparison. When you are identified in a picture on Facebook, biometric software remembers your face so it can be “tagged” in other photographs. There is no option within a user’s Facebook privacy preferences to delete or prevent Facebook’s biometric-data collection.

As of 2013, Facebook revealed that users have uploaded approximately 250 billion photos, and are continuing to upload 350 million new photos each day. Photo tagging is an integral aspect of Facebook’s business model. It allows the company to identify the people with whom its users interact in the real world. Moreover, it allows Facebook to figure out where we travel, what activities we take part in, and the type of people we like and dislike.

Furthermore, as of 2014, Facebook has begun testing, in the form of research, its new DeepFace? facial recognition/verification software. The DeepFace? software uses “3D modeling techniques and artificial neural networks to recognize similarities between two images of the same person.” This software can compare images even when the angle, lighting, and facial expressions of the individual are different. The Software was trained on four million images, belonging to approximately four thousand people, uploaded by Facebook users and has a 97.25% success rate. Compare that to humans, who have a 97.53% rate of success.

It is Time to Invest in a Hat and a Good Pair of Sunglasses

The problem with the facial recognition technology created by Facebook, and other similar companies, is that while people have the power to turn off their phones or computers and disable certain applications, we can not get rid of or change our faces – easily, that is. Unlike Europe, the United States currently has no specific federal law governing facial recognition. As a result, the facial recognition/verification software implemented by social media websites could have/potentially has grave privacy implications.

First, companies such as Facebook do not notify consumers of their use of facial recognition software, nor do they seek a user’s consent prior to identifying them in the “Tag Suggestions.” Moreover, these facial recognition technologies have the ability to connect a person’s face with a name and then link the name to intimate details of that individual’s life that are available online. These intimate details may include: home addresses, dating preferences, employment histories and/or religious beliefs, among others. The worst part is that the consumer has no idea that this has happened.

Second, the ability of the software to match images of the same person – no matter what the surrounding circumstances are or the angle of the face – if implemented by companies across industries has the potential to give businesses or individuals the ability to identify or find almost anyone in public without their knowledge or consent. It also has the ability to enable mass surveillance, as it will become easy to target and track people’s locations, movements, activities, and associations.

Lastly, companies such as Facebook have the potential to sell or share with third parties the information collected or associated with facial recognition technology. This too, would happen behind the consumer’s back and too easily done in a way that the consumer does not understand or consent to. For example, if Facebook’s database of users and photos is shared with retail businesses, these businesses could then compare photos taken in store with information connected to the individuals found online, potentially resulting in tailored digital advertising. Furthermore, Facebook’s database could hypothetically one day be accessed for intelligence or law-enforcement purposes.

The widespread use of facial recognition/verification software among social media websites, compounded with the constantly evolving technologies and the current lack of federal regulation, over time may drastically change the landscape of the world in which we live. While, fingerprints may be readily accessible, they can be easily guarded and protected, but your face is harder to disguise. It may no longer be only in the science fiction movies that we see a time where billboards address us personally by name, where anonymity ceases to exist, and where it isn’t only celebrities that never leave the confines of their houses without a large hat and a dark pair of sunglasses.

It would be good to link to sources, not list them: this is the Web.

The next draft should straighten out the confusion between facial recognition and biometrics. The face is just one of the many forms of biometric information, none of which you can change. If the subject is biometrics, discussion of facial recognition is under-inclusive. If the subject is facial recognition, limitation to private corporate surveillance is under-inclusive.

If the subject is facial recognition produced by the application of machine learning to large numbers of photos people meant to share only with friends and family, the problem is one more instance of why centralized "social networking" is bad. If you were using a $50 FreedomBox to share your photos, they would only be shared with your real friends, not the data-miners, and there would be many fewer images of your around, particularly if your friends also stopped their ridiculous unsafe sharing.....


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r2 - 10 Nov 2015 - 20:58:17 - EbenMoglen
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