Facebook Facial Recogniton More Harm Than Good?



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photo credit: pshab

Amid much scrutiny and negativity, Facebook has announced that the much anticipated facial recognition feature will start rolling out for all users over the next few weeks. Just as quickly as it was announced, the blogosphere was buzzing with how we opt out of this feature. As typical with a new Facebook feature, this is an automatic opt-in and, as users, we are faced with opting out. As readers of this blog, you have heeded the warnings and have already opted out of photo tagging which is the basis for facial recognition.

Automatic Algorithmic Tagging

The technology behind facial recognition, according to Facebook’s Vice President of Product, Chris Cox in his conversation with Ben Parr back in December 2010, was built in house with some assistance from partners (which have not been disclosed). The automatic algorithmic tagging identifies people in photos and suggests that they be tagged by users. This is not that complicated if we think about it as we have our core group of friends and presumably we will be together and take photos for which we will be tagged in. So if there is another photo that has not been tagged, that photo would be part of the suggested tagging. While Facebook has high confidence in their algorithms/technology we know that nothing is foolproof and as we are unaware as to the depths as to what this facial recognition will be used for, we can only be cautious and highly consider opting out.

Facebook’s Who Is This

If you are an open networker on Facebook, are very curious or just wish to remain very public, you probably haven’t and will not opt out. Should that be the case, the question arises as to how does the suggested tagging work? Facebook, fills in the prompt of “Who is this” with suggestions as to who the people are.  Simply hit “save tags” and the photos are now tagged.

Future of Photo Tagging and Facial Recognition

Photo tagging is one of Facebook’s most popular features but we have to wonder if that will continue. Are heavy users of Facebook going to pay attention to this? Will they have heard about it if they were nose down in Facebook games and liking all day? Despite being picked up by major news stations and bloggers hitting the web in record time, we know that there are some that remain oblivious to this new default opt -in feature. The negativity that has surrounded this launch has Google sitting on their facial recognition technology, Google Goggles an app which looks at photos taken with a phone and then translate them into recognizable items, is waiting for the dust to clear and manage their launch in a manner that is more comfortable to users and devoid of the mistakes of Facebook.

Photo tagging is not really new technology and exists in places we never really think about. We recently were introduced in depth by Tom Martin in his Fox 5 interview about photo geotagging. Imagine taking a photo with your  iPhone, uploading to Facebook and it gets person tagged, you are now faced with not only the photo tagging with your name and it is also geotagged to pinpoint your location (of course there is a margin of error). This then raises the question what are they doing with this information? How is it being used in ways that we are unaware of?

How Else Is the Technology Being Used?

We are unsure really. We know that Facebook is becoming the new PI of sorts as it is being considered in Jury Selection and in some cases if insurance fraud. We are fearless when it comes to posting on Facebook. We never really think about when we post the photos and tag our friends. They are our friends, it is our profile and are conscious of trying to be as private as we can. The technology is so far ahead of us as by the time we find out about it, it has already been quietly tested and our privacy very possibly could have been compromised in testing. It does make you think about how far will technology take us in being able to identify us by facial recognition and also geotagging. We do not think about how our phones are pinging constantly to locate our whereabouts. This works so well in criminal cases but for those that are law abiding citizens how is our location being used without our knowledge?

Is the Facebook facial recognition doing more harm that good or is it not that big of a deal?

  • I am not a fan of photo tagging, but it’s just my personal opinion, as I really would hate to be tagged by Facebook in every photo I appear in (even without my knowledge). However, since there are, even currently, privacy settings to prevent that, I am not too worried.
    About the technology itself, it’s not THAT mature, Apple uses it in their Faces feature (for both iPhoto and Aperture, but scheduled for iOS5 as well) and I can tell you it’s not really immune to huge mistakes at times, while at other times it seems to perform miracles. It really depends on the photo, its lighting etc. I doubt Facebook came out with something more advanced than that, but we’ll see.

    • Gabriele

      I share the same sentiment. I am not a fan of the photo tagging as if I am taking pics with my friends, they know I am.

      I doubt it did too and there will be flaws. That is what concerns me the most (not necessarily for just me) it seems like we will see where there will be incorrect suggestions and accidential taggings. I know they tested it and it seems to work real well and they are highly confident but so is every single company that they will not get hacked. And … they get hacked. 

  • I actually saw the first example of the auto-tagging when my brother was tagged in a picture. He was standing behind a woman, you could only see his eyes and hair and he was holding his arm around the woman.

    Only thing is…it wasn’t my brother! Imagine if his fiancee was the jealous type 😉

    • Oscar

      This is exactly what I think will happen! And it will happen more than we think as group of friends assumption is that it is the same person. I think there will be a lot that are tagged correctly however if we see a lot that are not and people are complaining, we may see more opt out than remain opted in.
      yes, it is good that she was not the jealous type or your brother could have been in some hot water!

  • I actually saw the first example of the auto-tagging when my brother was tagged in a picture. He was standing behind a woman, you could only see his eyes and hair and he was holding his arm around the woman.

    Only thing is…it wasn’t my brother! Imagine if his fiancee was the jealous type 😉

  • Suzanne,

    Hadn’t really thought of the geotagging in light of FB’s recent face detection system… but boy, that is scary. Especially for the youth that don’t even realize what kind of data is contained in those iPhone pics they so frequently snap and share.

    Thanks for including the Fox 8 interview — important that we help spread the word.


    • Suzanne


      It was the first thing I thought of as after seeing your report I got a bit uneasy with all the pics I share of My son. I guess when we think about it our city is one thing as far as location but when it comes to pinpointing it to a block it does get a bit unnerving.

      The interview was such an eyeopener that I had to share it!