Your face has become a barcode without your consent

Face barcode

You’ve probably noticed that Facebook’s facial recognition technology is extremely accurate. You can upload a photo of friends and before you can identify everyone, Facebook has already made accurate tag suggestions for you.

Facebook’s facial recognition technology is powered by a system called DeepFace, and uses machine learning, or, Artificial Intelligence, to increase its accuracy. Each time your face is tagged in a Facebook photo, the database collects even more identifying information about your face.

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DeepFace derives identities from a nine-layer deep neural network involving more than 120 million parameters with an accuracy of 97.35 percent.

Because this technology identifies faces and tags them for you, it’s safe to assume your face is completely captured in their database, and the privacy of your identity no longer exists.

DeepFace is in deep trouble in Europe

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner, along with Hamburg’s Data Protection Authority, have forced Facebook to delete its entire European database of facial recognition data. This should make you wonder why it’s being tolerated in the US.

Pay attention to the signs

What, exactly, is Facebook going to use this data for? Why would it spend millions of dollars developing an AI platform for 3D facial recognition? Just to make it easy for you to automatically tag your friends? Probably not.

Facial recognition can be used to keep track of where people go when implemented with Wi-Fi security cameras. Theoretically, a person could be tracked throughout their entire day going to the grocery store, to the bank, and back home. Imagine what would happen if facial recognition was used in security cameras?

Actually, it already is, and Israel-based startup D-ID (de-identification) is one of the only companies on a mission to preserve your privacy. Its software alters the video files from security cameras before they’re saved or analyzed by AI while maintaining the integrity of the video stream for human eyes.

Is Facebook really just a social media platform?

Some people believe Facebook is owned by the government, which could explain why it apparently beat the FBI at facial recognition. If it is  secretly a government agency, it hasn't really beaten anyone. It’s interesting to note that the FBI isn’t trying to take over Facebook's database (at least not as far as we know), which could be an indication of an existing relationship.

All of that is pure (and rather daft) speculation, but regardless of what this data is being used for, it’s a complete invasion of privacy. This brings up another important point. Many people believe Facebook’s facial recognition software is an invasion of privacy, but if it helps capture the identities of criminals, it’s worth it.

Giving up privacy and rights for security

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." This famous quote appropriately surfaces with technological advances that limit the privacy of individuals, including facial recognition technology.

In September 2011, a study was published that revealed a majority of airline travelers were willing to give up privacy for what they perceived to be security -- even when it undermined constitutional rights.

Worried about terrorism after the World Trade Center attacks, travelers were quick to submit to enhanced pat down procedures and full-body scanners with questionable health consequences. The majority of travelers surveyed were happy to give up their rights to privacy and fully supported religious profiling in the name of safety.

Self-preservation is a natural instinct, so it makes sense that a majority of people would be willing to give up a little privacy in order to feel secure. However, to be fair, Franklin’s expression carried a different context.

Franklin’s quote was written on behalf of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in response to a tax dispute with Pennsylvania’s ruling family. The legislature wanted to tax the Penn family lands to pay for defense during the French and Indian War. The Penn family had the governor veto this request. Franklin believed this obstructed the legislature’s ability to govern the people.

The Penn family offered a lump sum of money in exchange for the assembly’s acknowledgment that it didn’t have the right to tax it. Franklin’s quote was a statement supporting taxation to support military defense spending, and was unrelated to privacy.

Although the context of Franklin’s quote has been lost in current times, it remains a powerful reminder to seriously contemplate how much of our privacy and constitutional rights we are willing to give up in order to feel secure.

Photo credit: Imilian / Shutterstock

AJ-3Anna Johansson is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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