Sunday, June 12, 2011

Facebook's enhanced use of facial recognition and unseen tagging -- a new online reputation risk?

On the heels of reports (documented on my COPA blog now) that lawmakers are looking again at protecting minors – especially their privacy – using social networking sites, Facebook has recently announced it is implementing a new grade of facial recognition technology, so it can encourage more tagging. Some of this is already in place, although many Facebook users may not know it.

One of the leading articles appeared June 8 in PCWorld, “Why Facebook’s Facial Recognition is Creepy”, by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal, link here.  

You can opt out of involvement in this exposure – an many critics say that “opt out” is too much work – we’ve seen this with the “do not track” debate already .  The “Tech Savvy” column by Jessica Guynn in the Los Angeles Times explains how to opt out, here.  

Information Week has a blog posting that Facebook’s “fy” attitude toward privacy may fly with home users but not with businesses and enterprises that are helping provide Facebook with so much of its revenue (indirectly) here

It used to be that consumers and “ordinary people” were appropriately sensitive about being photographed in public, except in an incidental manner. That was a big concern in the gay community where people feared being seen “accidentally” on television at gay pride events (this is Pride Weekend in Washington DC) or even at gay churches.  Warning signs used to be posted at gay events about media photography possibilities (and sometimes still are).  Until recently, it could have been a big problem for members of the military (under the way “don’t ask don’t tell” was sometimes enforced).

That’s one reason why it surprises me that Facebook acts so blasé about facial recognition.

We hear a lot about the technology in security areas – even with the TSA. It’s hard for me to believe it can be that reliable. It’s amazing easy to mix people up if they look a bit alike (how many look-a-likes came forward to copy Bill Clinton?) and incidental photos of people on the web, taken at some distance, can be hard to identify.

The possibility of being tagged from social appearances (especially in bars) without knowledge could pose online reputation problems for some people in certain areas (like teachers), building on the concerns about employee blogging policies that I’ve already presented here. It could give Michael Fertik and Reputation Defender plenty of new business. 

First picture: the "portrait" is mine, taken by my request. But other faces appear in the background. Could any of this really get tagged? 

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