If you spend any time on social media you’re probably familiar with the concept of “tagging” people in photos which show up online. On the odd chance that you’re not, this just means that a picture of you and a group of friends may well identify you, but it can also be linked to the accounts of everyone else in the photo. (Sometimes whether they wanted to be or not.) To make things even “easier” for you, some social networks can use facial recognition software to identify the people in the pictures and tag them at will. In the case of Facebook, some of their users are miffed enough over this perceived intrustion into their privacy that they’re taking Planet Zuckerberg to court over it. (AT&T News)
A US judge rejected a request by Facebook to toss out a civil suit accusing it of violating privacy with face-recognition software to help “tag” people in pictures.
A lawsuit filed by three Illinois residents under the auspices of the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act can proceed, US District Court Judge James Donato said.”The court accepts as true plaintiffs’ allegations that Facebook’s face recognition technology involves a scan of face geometry that was done without plaintiffs’ consent,” he said in the ruling.It appeared that legislators in Illinois passed the act to address emerging biometric technology such as Facebook face-recognition software at issue in the case, according to the judge.Facebook had argued in a motion to dismiss that analyzing uploaded photographs did not qualify as biometric data and that the Illinois law did not apply.
Whether or not a selfie qualifies as “biometric data” seems to be at the heart of the procedural ruling but it also skips over the larger questions involved. I won’t get off on another of my tangents about how the internet eventually ruins everything here, but when you sign on to be a member of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest, it seems to me as if you sort of surrender some more of your digital “privacy” as part of the bargain. For the most part you get to pick and choose what you share on the web, but unless you do it without interacting with anyone else on the planet (and if so, what’s the point…) then you’re going to wind up on their pages as well. To a certain extent I suppose I can see how it would be annoying to have photos of you showing up all over the web without your permission, but that’s the whole point. If you are engaging in that arena then you’ve sort of given permission already.
Now, for people who don’t use social media it’s a different question. If somebody takes your picture and uploads it in any fashion which might be profiting someone else then you clearly have a case to make. Most Facebook and Twitter users aren’t making money directly off their accounts, but somebody is making money off the advertising which always shows up.
Speaking of money, facial recognition software and selfies, let’s complicate the question even further with another story. Very soon you may need to be taking selfies just to access your banking and credit accounts when you’re out on the town. (WaPo)
The selfie is about to get serious.
Already ubiquitous at parties and for capturing Instagram-worthy landscapes, the act of raising a phone to your face and finding the perfect photo angle could take on a whole new role in people’s finances. Some banks, tax agencies and tech companies are making the selfie an integral step for people checking their bank accounts, shopping online and filing tax returns.
Forced to find creative ways to guard against the rising threat of identity theft, a growing number of companies are moving from a system that tests people on what they know, such as a password. Now they want to ask consumers to provide evidence of something that can’t easily be changed or copied: their face.
If you find this subject at all interesting, read through that entire linked piece. Some proponents of unlocking your digital devices through facial recognition make a good point. Passwords can be cracked, guessed or stolen. A clever identity thief can find out enough about you to get into all of your digital business if they really want to. But they don’t have your face, so it might be a more secure way to determine if that’s really you trying to buy some expensive bling out on the opposite coast from your home. Still, much like the Facebook case cited above, privacy advocates are up in arms because the existence of these photos and their ties to your true identification could be used for all manner of things, particularly if law enforcement was trying to track you down. That scenario is pointed out by the apparently libertarian leaning Alvaro Bedoya.
“Everyone has your face,” says Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology. “So it is a mode of authentication that is inherently public.”
“It is a basic human freedom to be able to walk outside and be anonymous and be private,” said Bedoya. “If you can no longer be a face in the crowd, that’s a problem.”
Not to put too fine a point on it for Mr. Bedoya, but… says who? Since when are you assured any level of “privacy” in terms of people seeing your face and recognizing you when you’re walking around in the public square? You’re assured of being secure from the government in your person, house, papers, and effects, but that doesn’t make you invisible when you leave your home. If a camera of any sort catches your image when walking down the street or going into a publicly accessible building, it’s the same as any of your fellow citizens seeing you. They could be questioned by the police if there was a criminal investigation going on and so can the camera. And if you’re already uploading your image to social networks the complaint seems doubly sketchy.
If Facebook loses this case we may see the end of tagging on social media entirely. As far as I’m concerned that’s probably a good thing, but not because it violates anyone’s Constitutional rights. It’s just annoying.