My computer knows me when it sees me

So I was on Facebook the other day. Let’s just admit it, we all are aren’t we? Anyway, as often happens with Facebook, I was suddenly informed of some new “features” that FB had introduced, and was provided a brief explanation of each new bell and every whistle.

One of these new features in particular caught my attention. Buried in my privacy settings was a new option concerning my photos. Apparently, Facebook now has the ability to “suggest” to my friends that they tag me in photos. This sounds benign, but when you read between the lines, Facebook is actually scanning all the photos of all my friends, and looking for faces that look like me, and suggesting to my friends that they should tag me in the photo.

Let me say that again in case it blew by you the first time. Facebook is recognizing photos of me, and making suggestions to my friends based on what it SEES in the photos. Yes, that’s right, honest-to-goodness Face Recognition Technology, right there inside Facebook. This struck me as another example of technology that could get very out of hand, very quickly. Now Facebook does not have to wait for us lowly humans to “get around” to tagging all our friends in photos, now once Facebook knows what you look like – in just ONE photo – it can scan all the thousands of photos taken by all your hundreds of friends, looking for pictures of you.

What if you do not like being tagged? What if you are one of those people that scurry about “un-tagging” themselves furiously? How long will it be until somebody figures out how to exploit this technology such that with the right tool, I could simply say “find all pictures of Jane Doe that exist anywhere on Facebook”? Tagged or not, here they come.

So much for privacy. So much for choice.

Now of course, as with any technology, it’s inherent Evilness or Goodness lies in the hands of those that use it. There could be some good uses. Catching criminals for instance is one good use I can think of. But at what cost? At what price do we pay for the benefits of this technology? No longer can we rest comfortably knowing that only photos we have approved are tagged. And tagged or un-tagged, we have entered an entirely new era of privacy issues on the Internet.

Face Recognition Software is already used around the world but dozens of governments fighting the war on terror. Able to scan hundreds of pictures and video feeds for wanted faces is a huge boon to law enforcement. As the technology becomes more and more common, and cheaper and cheaper to possess, the odds that it falls into nefarious hands increases exponentially.

Today it’s Facebook. Tomorrow it’s every surveillance camera or traffic monitor you happen to walk in front of. That old fear of Big Brother watching our every move has come to pass. Only now, not only is Big Brother watching, but he recognizes you when he sees you, and he is taking notes.

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