Facebook product manager Sam Odio announced this week that his team is testing face-detection technology on photographs uploaded to the site. It’s not as Big-Brother as it sounds–at least not yet. The feature is simply designed to streamline the photo-tagging process, which allows users to link images of friends and family to their own Facebook accounts.
If you own a newer digital camera, you’ve probably noticed that it displays a little square over your subject on the view screen as the lens brings the subject into focus. If there are people in your shot, the camera will try to find their faces so that you can get a clear image of your friends rather than, say, the table in front of them.
The technology works similarly on Facebook, except it’s designed to help you label photos you’ve already taken. It cuts out a lot of tedious and time-consuming clicking on the users’ part by determining for them if an object in a given photo is a human face. It then pops up a little box where the user can simply type an auto-detected person’s name. If you don’t yet have access to the new functionality, here’s what it looks like (at right).
It’s only a matter of time before developers refine the facial-recognition algorithms to detect and tag friends’ faces for you. And from there, who knows what this could mean for the continuing battle between privacy advocates and those in favor of information sharing on the internet?
I’m not a big proponent for either side of the debate. Sure, I want my privacy, and I want owners of the sites I use to be honest and forthright about what they plan to do with my information, but I also don’t have a whole lot to hide. I obey the law, I don’t go to wild parties, and my life, in general, is kind of boring. Additionally, I’m a realist: If I don’t want people outside of the Web to know my deepest, most personal thoughts, then I won’t share them online either.
Even still, I have to admit it’s all kind of creepy. I mean, why did Facebook have to advertise wedding-related products and services when I was engaged and then, as soon as I changed my relationship status to “married,” why’d they have to start advertising baby stuff?
I felt pressure from Facebook to start having kids before my own mother even started on about it!
But, I digress.
We all know that Facebook already advertises products to us based on our interests, age, gender, relationship status, and so forth. Yet one wonders what else they’ll do with it, particularly now that developers are slaloming down the slippery slope of tagging us with information we might not want to share, potentially by recognizing who we really are versus whom we might claim to be.
Facial-recognition technology already exists and has a number of applications. The FBI has used it to find bad guys, and now American police officers are doing the same. According to various recent reports including this one from The Daily Mail, any officer with a smartphone could feasibly fight crime through photography:
Police in the US are using an iPhone app to take photos of suspects and instantly compares them with a criminal database.
The app employs biometric information such as facial recognition software to help police identify suspects within seconds.
Known as MORIS (Mobile Offender Recognition and Identification System), the system lets police officers take a photo of a suspect, upload it into a secure network where it is then analysed.
Maureen Boyle of The Enterprise newspaper in Brockton, MA, produced the following video about the iPhone app for the paper’s YouTube page:
Back to social networking: If you’re a criminal and you’re dumb enough to put pictures of yourself on Facebook, you deserve to get caught. But what about those of us who are innocent? Should the authorities be able to comb through our information just because they can? Intellectually, I’m inclined to say “yes” because I’ve got nothing to hide, and I’m all for chasing bad guys. But part of me wonders how this is any different from illegal wiretapping or spying. Something just doesn’t feel right.
What do you think?