Today we face an imminent loss of freedom and an unprecedented attack on our liberties and safety in our society. Cloud powered facial recognition not only threatens our privacy but fundamentally threatens individual security making ourselves and our children extremely vulnerable.
A Carnagie Mellon research project, as a proof-of-concept, predicted the interests and Social Security numbers of some of participants. They did so by combining face recognition with the algorithms developed in 2009 to predict SSNs from public data. SSNs were nothing more than one example of what is possible to predict about a person: conceptually, the goal of this experiment was to show that it is possible to start, from an anonymous face in the street, and end up with very sensitive information about that person using a process of data “accretion.” Blending online and offline data which is possible by the convergence of face recognition, social networks, data mining, and cloud computing A blending which is generally being referred to as augmented reality.
Augmented Reality and the semantic web (meta data about data) together provide the promise of much greater utility of the internet in every day physical life, this greater opportunity is also an immense and terrifying threat.
The term augmented reality refers to the merging of online data and the physical world which this new level of technology is now making possible. If an individual’s face in the street can automatically be identified using a face recognizer and matched to public profiles from google and social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn, then it becomes possible not just to identify that individual, but also to infer additional, and more valuable, information about people, once their name has been (probabilistically) inferred. This valuable information can also be extremely sensitive information.
Imagine walking down the street and seeing the relationship or health status of everyone you meet. What really are we about to expose ourselves to in every day society?
Identifying people without their consent provides a way to identify people without their permission and get lost of valuable data, opening people up to others in society. This also threatens to dramatically reduce openness and restrict trust and freedom in society, turning soiciety into a public place of masks. As an active member in privacy standards for online Identity Management, I have an intense insiight into the requirements to protect ones identity technically. As a sociologist, I am interested in the digital boundaries in the physical and social world, as A scientist I am interested in defining, measuring, and developing this digital and physical boundaries.
For anything to work, people need to understand how much privacy they have in public and socially. The threat of instant facial (identity and profile) recognition, powered from data in the cloud, can be used to profoundly undermine any identity and control protections that we naturally have in society.
Clearly, facial recognition and the ability to identify people through the use of video surveillance and cctv camera’s mass scale is on the horizon and moving towards large scale implementation will be an inevitability. Although, this technology wont be restricted to just the corprations and government. People will be able to use these tools on industries and institutions.
There are many sociological reasons for privacy that make society operational. Social and legal systems are far from perfect and have never been designed for total control or integration with total surveillance and transparency in society.
In general the rule of thumb for digital development has been to keep the natural boundaries between people that exist between people and people physically in the online digital world.
A new application developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College is designed to take a photograph of a total stranger and, using the facial recognition software PittPatt (Heavily Funded Technology), track down a real identity in a matter of minutes.
In the context of recent London and Vancouver riots this is extremely relevant. There are already groups in England which appeared in the wake of the rioting, looting, and arson that swept across the country when a Google group of private citizens called London Riots Facial Recognition emerged with the aim of using publicly available records and facial recognition software to identify rioters as a form of digital vigilantism. Imagine where this type of vigilantism will be heading, in fact, I can imagine a much greater breakdown in law and order.
Looking historically, there are immense lessons from world war 2 depicting how freedoms and trust can be undermined without privacy protections. Learning from the past and looking towards the future is a collective responsibility.