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Is Facial Recognition really bad?

Facial recognition is a hot topic nowadays. It has gotten attention in the United States recently for many reasons, for example, for the way it has been used to identify people taking part in demonstrations. The most recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO also dealt with facial recognition, and it might become an eye-opener for many people.

Watch the episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about facial recognition

We have known about the facial recognition technology for a long time. Facebook has had the ability to recognize faces and help us tag people when as we upload photos, and Google is automatically recognising who is on the pictures we upload to the cloud. When you upload a picture and Google automatically tell you who can be seen on the picture from your family, that might sound nice. But, it also means that Google is well able to recognize you on a picture taken when people walk randomly up and down the streets of New York. As a result, you might think that it is all about being nice when you upload your pictures to a cloud or to a social media site, but it is really about so much more.

Whatever goes online is public domain

Clearview.ai is a heavily debated company. They have scraped all sorts of social media sites for photos, and now law enforcement agencies and other companies can buy the right to search on their platform. If you have ever uploaded a photo of yourself to Facebook or Twitter or similar sites, it is very likely to be in the database of Clearview in some way. But, what about the pictures uploaded by some other person that took a selfie on the beach, with you accidentally in the background?

When someone upload a picture of you to the Clearview database, they will get results showing pictures of you in all ages and at all sorts of locations. I guess most of us would be very surprised to see what the results are like. In fact, they do not even need to know your name, because they will see all those other photos, and most likely, they will be able to find your name based on the pictures they find.

If that wasn’t enough, if they would combine it with data from your GPS on your phone, they will also be able to see your movements and your whereabouts.

Is this legal? There have been debate between Facebook/Twitter and Clearview about whether what they are doing is legal, but so far, the case is still going, and we don’t know the actual outcome.

Facial recognition
Image by teguhjati pras from Pixabay

Cameras on the street

Security is important and the battle against terrorism is important. That is why we can find more and more surveillance cameras outdoor. But, these cameras are not only there to record in case of emergency, but they are immediately able to tell who is walking up and down the streets, and thus, pay attention to your movements. Once again, we are living in days when you don’t really have much privacy, unless you sit in the cabin in the forest reading a book without any mobile device or Internet connection running. And, it is just as important to notice, that you did not use the GPS on your mobile phone to navigate you to the cabin. If you did, several apps might report about your whereabouts, and they know you location very well.

This can, of course, feel safe, but it can also be heavily abused.

This can be easily abused

Recently, the Norwegian state TV channel named NRK bought a database from a UK company. The database included information about data gathered from apps installed on phones in Norway. With the data, they could follow the people and their whereabouts. The data included information about more than 30,000 people, and as they did research on the data, they could easily see who would be doctors, based on them entering the hospital around 8.00 in the morning and leaving at 16.00, and they could see who would be patients at the hospitals (or the psychiatric ward) based on their movements. But, once they left the hospital, they could also follow these people home and see where they hang out, based on the data stored by all sorts of apps installed on their devices.

And yes, the Norwegian TV channel could actually buy this information and then start to do research based on it. Can you imagine how easily this can be abused by stalkers, those planning a burglary, or just anyone out there to find information about others? Of course, as the police hunt down a terrorist, this might be useful, but normally, a terrorist wouldn’t install such stupid 3-party apps on their devices. As a result, this is once again about spying on normal people and storing information that they do not really know of.

We should be more careful

You might say that we should be more careful. Of course, we should! But, when we install apps on our phones, we all answer yes to the questions given upon installation without even thinking about what rights we are given. That is why Facebook stores information about your call-history, and whenever someone you have called registers for Facebook, they will suggest this person as a friend to you, simply because you called them using your normal phone. You can block access to your call-history, but most people don’t even notice the question and have answered a big yes, eager to find out what’s up with all their friends on Facebook.

Not only should we be more careful with the permissions we give to the applications we installed, we should also be more careful about what we upload to the Internet. What you upload today, might be shown in databases online as people search for you tomorrow… and the day after tomorrow, and in 50 years from now. Are you sure that you want that? And when you upload a picture of your kid, it is scraped in the same way.

How to hide offline and online?

Do you like the sound of being recognized wherever you go? Or would you like to stay clear of recognition? It can be very hard, and there is little that you can do about videos and photos uploaded to the Internet in the past. Of course, you can start deleting the photos and the data (it might help), but still, much of the data has already been scraped. However, you can be more careful about uploading photos and videos in the future.

You should be very careful when installing 3-party applications to your phone. If you are smart, never turn on the GPS signal on your phone. Even better, buy an old phone without a camera and without a GPS.


These are just some thoughts regarding the debate on facial recognition and privacy online. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so write a comment and let me know what is on your heart.

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