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Facial Recognition Technology, Can We Be Trusted With It?

Has technology that connects us gone too far?

26May

There has been a lot of discussion around technology causing privacy problems. We try hard to protect our rights to privacy but what if one day, it’s totally gone? What if that day is closer than we think?

Some may argue that things have already gone too far with the amount of data available to third parties. We leave traces of our presence pretty much everywhere, and hungry marketers are there to pick them up. The data is collected from clicks on links, website sign ups, searches and any one of hundred actions. The information about our preferences is then used as a selling point in marketing campaigns. It is harmless unless this data is falls into the hands of more nefarious parties, and used maliciously.

Identity thieves and spammers may not be the worst that we can expect, though. Technology is growing with geometric progression and many wish it could already be more regulated and monitored. Personal information is the main target of various malware that aims to steal data from the devices we use and the websites we trust. It's common for even advanced technology to be hacked or developers may miss a bug in security which can destroy a system. The nightmare begins when technology actually intends to breach our privacy not only online but also face-to-face.

Facial recognition technology is not a new tool and is used by many large companies. There are still privacy advocates defending our rights and freedoms. Some tech companies, though, are trying to convince both the advocates and the public that there is no issue. One such example has recently appeared in Russia.

Two young entrepreneurs have launched FindFace, an app which can identify any face in a crowd with up to 70% accuracy. The idea is straightforward, you point your smartphone camera at a stranger that you find attractive and take a photo of him/her. You then upload the picture to the app which instantly identifies the person’s social media profiles and will suggest other similar looking individuals. You can even upload a picture of your favourite celebrity and the app will bring up similar looking candidates. The developers say there is no harm in such a tool and that the app is designed to help people to find a potential boyfriend/girlfriend more easily.

On the other hand, there can be many reasons why the app should be banned for good. First of all, not everybody has good intentions. There may be many positive uses for this but it can also end in stalking, harassment, and abusive behavior. The founders believe that there are risks but also say: 'We cannot stop technological progress so must work with it and make sure it stays open and transparent.'

Australia is also exploring facial recognition capabilities and preparing a tool called 'The Capability'. It will give police the power to identify faces of criminals both on the streets and online. Meanwhile, Malaysia is planning to apply similar technology to screen for trouble makers outside night clubs. In the U.S, it is already used in casinos and among several retailers.

And then there are Google and Facebook, who store billions of photos tagged with people’s faces in their databases. This could be a goldmine for people looking to build systems around facial recognition. While these sites currently have very strong security systems, there is still a chance that one day, someone will hack them, which is exactly what happened to the Russian equivalent of Facebook, VKontakte.

For the time being, such technologies are in either beta or an earlier stage, but maybe it's worth thinking about changing your profile picture to something that isn’t your face.

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