J. D. Heyes
June 24, 2012
Have you ever been “tagged” by someone – a friend, a co-worker, or perhaps someone you don’t really know that well but who may be a friend of a friend – on Facebook? You may want to rethink that whole concept, thanks to a little purchase the social media giant made recently.
Facebook has purchased Face.com’s facial recognition technology, which techies say will make it faster and easier to tag photos, but which privacy experts say could become an issue, according to a report in InformationWeek.
The social media company, whose stock price has steadily fallen since its initial public offering in mid-May, paid between $55-60 million for the Israeli-developed mobile recognition technology, Techcrunch.com, adding that it “could potentially allow you to upload a photo to Facebook while on the go, instantly receive suggestions of whom to tag, and confirm the tags with one click.”
“This is important to Facebook because right now there’s probably a ton of untagged mobile photos getting posted. Those are lost opportunities for engagement because when you get notified that you’ve been tagged in a photo, you probably visit Facebook immediately to check it. These tags also help Facebook understand who a photo is relevant to, so it can feature it in the news feeds of your closest friends,” Techcrunch.com reported.
There is something sinister here
In addition to the new programming, Facebook launched a new app – Facebook Camera – in late May, which is described as “a standalone photos app where you can shoot, filter, and share single or sets of photos and scroll through a feed of photos uploaded to Facebook by your friends.”
What makes Facebook’s purchase of facial recognition tools even more ominous is the company’s earlier $1 billion purchase of Instagram, which, Techcrunch.com notes, can be tied to Face.com’s program.
How good is this technology? Think three letters: “C-I-A.”
Face.com’s technology allows users to recognize faces even when conditions are poor, such as low lighting. So now Facebook has a) a super-advanced facial recognition program; b) a brand-new camera app; and c) the ability to post photos instantly.
All because the company believes the “next big thing” in social media is being able to post pictures in real-time so that your friends can quickly latch onto them?
Maybe, but this is pretty high-tech stuff for a social media site and, given Facebook’s (and Google’s, and other sites’) penchant for ripping off your personal information and invading your privacy, there is plenty here for concern.
No doubt the additions will make it easier for Facebook users to identify friends in photos and video – especially those on mobile devices – and that businesses could benefit by being able to better track “when and where their products are being talked about and promoted, especially with the rise of social sharing sites like Pinterest,” InformationWeek reported.
But at what cost to privacy? And how much easier will these technology additions make it for government snoops to “tag” and track you?
To tag or not to tag?
“Facebook’s page on photo tagging provides advice to users on how to limit or eliminate visibility of photos they are tagged in, as well as on how to remove tags, but the process can quickly become complicated and hard to keep up with,” says the IW report. “Businesses must take care to ensure that increased use of tagging does not result in increased privacy concerns for customers.”
There is legitimate concern this technology will most likely be used to deepen network databases already developed to conduct passive domestic surveillance on Americans by documenting relationships between people.
Imagine being “tagged” in a photo of someone who, without your knowledge, is involved in criminal activity. Since you are tied to that person, will that be justification for authorities to pry through your personal life, which they will justify by saying they were only trying to conduct a “thorough investigation?”
Think before you tag (or allow yourself to be tagged).