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Facial Recognition and Privacy in Social Media

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CSO posted an article about using facial recognition to tie anonymous Twitter profiles to real people by using Facebook and search engines. The article describes research by Carnegie Mellon University researchers that used facial recognition to tie anonymous Twitter accounts to Facebook users with search engines.  The professors say that this data can be obtained through public information without logging into Facebook itself.  This means that anyone with access to the proper programs could find you if you’re operating an anonymous account you don’t want made public.

The ability tie an anonymous account to a real person is useful for journalists, government agencies, private detectives and anyone else that may want to find, contact, and confirm a private user’s identity.  Imagine following up a tweeted lead about a juicy story, but you can’t find out who posted it because the profile only features a photo and a generic name.  You want to confirm the information, so you use your identity scanner to match up the photo with someone’s Facebook account.  Now you have a real name to go by and can contact that person directly to confirm the information and get details without having the chat through mentions for everyone to see.

The software could be used to find salacious pictures of a known person.  This could be a problem for many young people who grew up posting embarrassing photos from parties or other events that they thought would amuse their friends.  These photos could present problems for anyone in a public position where such images could tarnish their reputation.  While taking photos of people in compromising positions is nothing new, the ability to find them has never been as easy as it is today. Journalists must be particularly careful if they are working on dangerous or controversial stories.  These techniques might be used to embarrass, harass, or discredit them.

The best way to counteract these potential problems is to take preventative action.  Don’t post compromising photos of yourself online under any circumstances. Amusing drunken antics today could become an embarrassment 20 years later.  Avoid being in positions where others will take similar photos of you.  Be careful about what face you show the public.  Anyone with a smart phone or digital camera could take your picture, even if it’s not directly a photo of you.  Provide as little information as possible if you have an anonymous account.  Use picture of an object instead of a photo of you.  Make sure it’s as generic as possible and don’t use the same image on any accounts associated with photos of you or your name because they can eventually be tied back to you.

Facial recognition is just one aspect that’s slowly tearing down the walls of anonymity online.  There are several ways to tie anonymous accounts to the identities of real persons from using email addresses that require inputting your real name to tracking IPs and other networking diagnostics that will slowly associate any anonymous account with the real person operating it.  The age of the anonymous account is slowly coming to an end through these technologies.  We’re entering an age where people need to be careful about what we share online and how we act in the public sphere in case that information gets posted online.

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Written by Christopher Siler

2011/08/01 at 23:39

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