Facial Recognition

Continuing on a similar thread from the past few posts this year – let’s chat quickly about facial recognition.

It’s pretty freaky when you upload a photo to social media and the image is automatically tagged with the people in it. Very accurately too. According to the article ‘Is Facebook’s Facial-Scanning Technology Invading Your Privacy Rights?‘ Facebook’s DeepFace recognition software has “an accuracy rate of 97.35 percent compared with 97.5 percent for humans”


I don’t ever remember being given a notification or option to ‘opt out’ of having my face recognised by this technology, and thus this is another example of our privacy potentially being invaded without us even thinking about it. Think how useful this type of information could be to an identity thief. Because you cannot change your face (unless you are willing to go super sci-fi and try out a ‘Face Off’ style scenario) this type of ‘biometric identifier’ can be used to link all sorts of information about you.

According to Facebook’s Help page:

When someone uploads a photo of you, we might suggest that they tag you in it. We’re able to compare your friend’s photos to information we’ve put together from your profile pictures and the other photos you’re tagged in. If this feature is turned on for you, you can choose whether or not we suggest your name when people upload photos of you. Adjust this in your Timeline and Tagging settings.
We currently use facial recognition software that uses an algorithm to calculate a unique number (“template”) based on someone’s facial features, like the distance between the eyes, nose and ears. This template is based on your profile pictures and photos you’ve been tagged in on Facebook. We use these templates to help you tag photos by suggesting tags of your friends. If you remove a tag from a photo, that photo is not used to create the template for person whose tag was removed. We also couldn’t use a template to recreate an image of you.
If we can’t suggest a name automatically, we’ll group similar photos together so you can tag them quickly.
Sobadsogood.com states that “Every time you accept or alter the ‘suggest tag’ setting, the facial recognition technology becomes more effective [in] deciphering who your friends are and what they look like.” At least now I know there is a setting somewhere to turn it off. Though whether my ‘facial template’ is now permanently stored in Facebook’s data banks I suppose I’ll never know.
Recently, Facebook announced a new AI image search system that can ‘see’ what’s in your photos, so you can find one even if you forget to tag or describe it (See Engadget’s article). “Facebook developers used deep learning and a neural network to train the system to identify objects using tens of millions of photos with the proper annotations. By doing so, the image search can pick up on scenes, objects, animals, places, attractions and clothing items.” So the technology is expanding from faces out to almost anything.
Facial recognition software has been used by governments to keep track of citizens, for example at airports, however this software has now become a lot more mainstream. One artist in Russia has successfully matched 70% of photos he took of strangers on the subway  with their online personas in a series titled ‘Your Face is Big Data’. You can read more about this, and view the images, at  Sobadsogood.com
If you are really concerned about this, “[a]n artist is developing textile patterns that confuse algorithms by spamming them with false faces”  according to Vocativ. This means you could potentially wear a t-shirt made of this pattern, and you *should* confuse the technology. Unfortunately ‘HyperFace’, as the project is called, has not been fully tested or proven yet. So for now, all you can do is wear some pretty crazy paint on your face to confuse the recognition software. Don’t know how well that would go down at the office!

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