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— This is an article I wrote a while back but I believe it is still relevant. —

Is someone checking you out for curiosity, or for malicious purposes… ?

Summary
This paper will discuss somewhat recent activities, March 2011, going on with Google’s ‘new’ mobile application for facial recognition. Google says this application will allow one to take a photo and have their, Google, own search tool do a search of Google’s Profiles pages (1) for any user’s information allowed to be made publically located.
Software facial recognition, available to the public, has been in existence for some time now. Facial recognition efforts started back in the 1960s with semi-automated software and advancing from there.

Background
In late March 2011 (2), CNN ran a story that Google has a mobile application in the works that would allow someone to take a photo of a person and then access any publically available personal information for that person. Now, according to that story, the information would come from Google’s Profiles product and the person in the photo would have to grant their permission in advance via the Profile tool options for someone else to pull that personal information. And yes, Google already has another application (app) called Google Goggles that would take the image of the object in your photo (boat, building, food, etc.) and search the ‘Net, providing you with any collected information on that object.
Google stated “Google’s Profiles product includes a user’s name, phone number and e-mail address. Google has not said what personal data might be displayed once a person is identified by its facial-recognition system (3).” When the new software comes out of development, it is supposedly going to become part of the existing image search tool (4) and not be a new separate app.
Did you know that you can do facial recognition searches on Facebook…? What about searching through wads and wads of video on YouTube…?

Implications
While Google may say they have to be careful or that they will be cautious on this privacy issue – the capability of facial recognition software has been there for some years.
Google has massive databases of data, Petabytes and Exabyte’s worth, and that data is replicated in multiple locations for enhanced access speeds and backup purposes. How big is wads and wads, errrr, Petabytes and Exabytes you ask?
images:
http://davidberes.tumblr.com/post/10513337654
http://www.entellitrak.com/blog/detail/you-probably-dont-have-big-data/
http://www.networksandcode.com/default.aspx?g=posts&t=69

Now add to this massive pile up of data Google’s superior search capability and no one can dispute that Google is pretty good at search. Then on top of that, add the many search algorithms Google has at their disposal.

Look at the Google photo sharing application called Picasa (currently at version 3.8); it already had the capacity to recognize faces in your stored pictures. In 2009, Flickr added that capability as well. Picasa started theirs in 2008 (version 3.5), while iPhoto, yup – from Apple, using photo tags, started even earlier back in 2005. iMovie – yup, Apple again, even has the facial search capability.
Another aspect of Picasa, since June 2007, is its ability to perform geotagging, which is writing geographic coordinates to the photo’s metadata (5).

Even on YouTube, there is the capability to do the same thing. In 2009 (6), Google researchers created software for YouTube to perform facial recognition in uploaded videos and include annotations of who you are searching for – it does not have to pertain to just celebrities.
Privacy and security
This goes beyond someone taking a picture through your living room window that is a static photo. Of course this too is a matter of concern.
This brings us to privacy concerns as the crux of the matter. What if you really prefer not to have anyone on the street snapping a quick pix of you and simply out curiosity doing a web search on you. Well, it is possible after all, now with more and more applications becoming smarter and the web becoming more intelligent, think Web 3.0 where the web does the search work for you. And of course cameras and smart phone cameras have astonishing capabilities that will only increase over time.
Suppose you are an undercover cop (or a counter-intelligence agent) with multiple identities on the street and on the web. Now, suppose you, the cop, are at a restaurant with your partner (wife, lover, husband, etc) and somebody snaps that photo because you look interesting or familiar. That curious photographer does the web search with their smartphone and comes back with a cornucopia of multiple identities for that ‘interesting’ looking person (the cop). And being dazzled by this bounty, the curious photog decides to post this info in their blog or someone else’s. Notwithstanding invasion of privacy, or anything akin to it, the curious George uploads all their findings and starts posting, ‘Hey, check this out.’ Next, suppose some criminal element just happens to come across this on the web that night, the next day or week and identifies that undercover cop. What do you suppose is going to possibly happen to that cop and/or the cop’s family…..?
Women would most likely come to see this as their worst nightmare. Now you have some guy who may not be right in the head in some manner, decide he wants to find out all he can about a particular woman. And this “guy” starts to stalk her – now that he knows more information about her, without her knowledge or permission. You can extrapolate the rest on your own.
Children could become targets of the wrong elements in society. You know how children get; they want to talk about everything freely without any concern of who else might be looking at their postings or blogs, until their parents educate them. Hopefully that is.
Performing facial recognition searches using tags (putting a name or description with a photo) is one thing, doing facial recognition searches using only the facial image is another bigger capability.
After cops we have senior governmental officials who by virtue of their positions have their business all out in the street as they say. Then we come to senior Intelligence officials or military personnel on an incognito mission in-country who might not really want facial recognition being performed on them without their knowledge or permission.

Identity theft and Crime
Now that this capability is becoming more available, criminals or other lowlifes might attempt to use this ability to perform identity theft to empty your bank account or take over your life, more or less.

Conclusions

For now, you would need to ‘Opt-In’ on the various sites (ala Google) using facial recognition but, this could be a major invasion of privacy and a threat to many folks out there in the real world. It could also be a national security threat as well, now that more of the average Joe and Jane can gain access to it.
Are we now in the midst of going too far? Just because one person, or company, might think this facial recognition software is a neat little tool but what if you are unwillingly on the other side of that neat little tool?

Whose hands are the right hands for something like this to be in – the military for their work against insurgents in-country; the police for their investigative work, FEMA for their post disaster efforts?

Do we want this capability in the hands of everyone? Yes, it might be an individual’s right to obtain or purchase a product but what about the consequences? With all the databases starting to talk to each (and yeah – they are), sharing data and cross referencing material, online, in the ‘Cloud’ and more – what do we do.

Yes, that was a statement because I do not believe anyone has a definitive answer yet. Do we continue to innovate along these lines until we actually do get to the point of something like we saw in the movie, ‘The Minority Report?’ For those not familiar with the movie, the technology has gone beyond facial recognition, it went to retinal recognition to identify who you are and what your personal likes are. Can you imagine walking down the street and being bombarded by ads because store cameras along your walking route got a glimpse of your retina? Would you want that? Do you want facial recognition to occur at the snap of a picture and the subsequent collation of data?

Once that image is on the ‘Net, it might be a good bet to say that image is out there for eternity or until a massive EMP (7) comes along and wipes out everything with electronic circuitry (i.e. computers).
Do we come up with camera fuzzing technology as a counter? Say, for those who are camera shy in public (you know who you are) and want not their pix taken. Well, strap on an unobtrusive, hidden camera image fuzzer (it distorts the images a camera might obtain) and viola – you have your identity safe and that photog has a blurry, fuzzy picture taken up 10 or 30 MB of wasted space (that digital camera is of the 10 – 20 MB HD quality)…
As some of the more ‘fool hardy’ might say – Long live facial recognition software and social networking sites.
Or, is this simply much ado about nothing?

1 A profile page similar to Facebook’s – ‘Create a public profile to display the information you care about and make it easy for visitors to get to know you,’ Google Profiles, https://profiles.google.com/
2 Google making app that would identify people’s faces, March 31, 2011, http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/mobile/03/31/google.face/
3 ibid
4 CNN Strikes a Chord with Google Over Facial Recognition Article, April 1, 2011, http://techland.time.com/2011/04/01/cnn-strikes-a-chord-with-google-over-facial-recognition-article/
5 Data providing information about one or more aspects of the image, such as time and date, creator and/or means of creation
6 Google Develops Celebrity Face Recognition For YouTube, May 22, 2009, http://www.informationweek.com/news/internet/google/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=217600713
7 Electromagnetic Pulse – a burst of energy that destroys anything electronic.

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