How to protect your privacy from facial recognition technology

How to Protect Your Privacy From Facial Recognition Technology

One of the most anticipated additions to everyday Internet technology, facial recognition promises to upend the way people search for and discover people online. Though already used by organizations like banks, airports, police departments and various government agencies for more than a decade, facial recognition technology has only recently become available to the daily Internet user. Moreover, the latest advances in facial recognition software have seen massive improvements in accuracy, applicability and accessibility, leading both to increased demand for and scrutiny of these systems.

This article will discuss the past, present and future of facial recognition systems, along with ways on how to protect your privacy from facial recognition technology.


A brief history of facial recognition systems

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Facial recognition technology goes back to the 1960s, when a team of American computer scientists at Panoramic Research, Inc. developed a method of identification requiring extensive human input and automated processing. The somewhat-secret project achieved mixed success: It could recognize faces, but within only a limited range of angles.

Continued research led to the commercial availability of facial recognition software by 1997. Since then the technology has experienced a more than 10,000 percent improvement in accuracy; indeed, the algorithms used to power the software now recognize faces better than humans can.


Facial recognition technology could be the newest gold rush.

Seen by many as the next major trend in online technology, commercial facial recognition software is currently being developed by industry giants and startups alike, all eager to stake their claim as pioneers in a potential new mother lode.

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Some of the more successful entrants to the facial recognition race include Google, Facebook, Polar Rose (recently purchased by Apple for $22 million) and The last has already released an open application programming interface (API) to developers, along with applications that identify celebrity photos on Twitter, find untagged photos of specific people on Facebook and more. Google added facial recognition technology to its Picasa image-viewing and sharing application in 2009, which allows for automatic identification, tagging and searchability of people in photos.

You can expect more advances from these and other companies in the near future. This is why it is important to recognize how to protect your privacy from facial recognition technology.


Facial recognition technology has implications for online privacy.

If social networking has taught you anything, it’s that the more you share, the more you reveal. With status updates, wall posts, likes, photos and other staples of online relationships, you give away extraordinary amounts of personal information to friends, acquaintances and, invariably, strangers.

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Widespread facial recognition technologies will likely result in the increasing incidence of tagged (and, at worst, “undetaggable”) photographs online, which will be easy to discover through a simple search. You know all of those embarrassing and/or unflattering photos you have to untag?

Far more foreboding, mobile facial recognition technology could allow someone to photograph a complete stranger with a smartphone and immediately connect the person in the photo to a hypothetical database of previously identified faces. Such developments are closer than you think.  Start early and learn how to protect your privacy from facial recognition technology.


How to protect yourself from facial recognition technology

Everyone with photos online should take extra precautions when sharing photos with the Internet community at large. Picasa, Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook and other major picture-sharing and social-networking websites each have imperfect, though customizable, privacy settings that can prevent unauthorized viewers from accessing your photo collections. Of course, users can further protect themselves by deleting potentially compromising or reputation-damaging photos from their accounts, as such pictures have been known to have severe repercussions in the real world.  


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