Your benevolent social media overlords have a message for you.
You know those photos you’ve been uploading to Facebook?
You know, you, the kids, your spouses, your friends?
It’s bad enough that they are all up there on someone else’s mainframe — but who really cares if your images are out of your control, right?
Well, this week, Facebook started telling users worldwide about ways that it’s started using facial recognition technology. First, the idea was that the system could suggest “tags” so that your friends would remember to add your name to your picture.
But this week, some people started getting a new message: “We’re always working to make Facebook better, so we’re adding more ways to use face recognition besides just suggesting tags. For example, face recognition technology can do things like: find photos you’re in but haven’t been tagged.”
Gosh, that’s helpful.
Facebook is telling users worldwide about ways that it’s started using facial recognition technology.
The good news? In Canada and the European Union, Facebook can’t keep the same pools of pictures or use the software, because of privacy rules.
But the concept should give everyone the heebie-jeebies.
Here’s how they do it: “We currently use facial recognition software that uses an algorithm to calculate a unique number (‘template’). This template is based on your profile pictures and photos you’ve been tagged in on Facebook.”
Now, stop and think about that. When you add that next snap of you and the kids eating ice cream, you would be adding to the pool of pictures, and to the overall accuracy of the template known as you. Tag your best friend, and the huge pool of photos of that friend will be increased by one, and its accuracy will be fine-tuned just that much more as well.
Permission for the photo use is automatic, though it can be turned off: it’s buried away in “settings” and it’s phrased as a question. “Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?”
No — no, I don’t. (Now, I got out of Facebook a few months ago, writing “It might just be that I’m not doing it right, but Facebook leaves me, more often than not, feeling sad or alienated or angry. Too much of my time is spent arguing with people in my head, and also not wanting to face the risk of the angry pile-ons that are the specialty of the current landscape of social media.” I still check occasionally for messages, but I feel far better without it in my daily life.)
I know I sound like Chicken Little when it comes to giving huge corporations access to the intimate aspects of our lives and homes — as I pointed out in an earlier column, the idea of having an Alexa-style or Siri open microphone in my home absolutely petrifies me, no matter how useful the devices might be.
And I know that the system is not in place here.
But the technology is getting fine-tuned, and hey, plenty of Canadians spend time south of the border.
The irony is that so many of the applications that intrude on our privacy are sold to us as improvements in our daily lives.
But what’s to say warrants in another country couldn’t be used to compel facial matching? And what’s to stop Alexa from flagging someone if you say “armed insurrection” too often?
Can we do anything about it? Probably not.
It, like so many other things, is probably well and truly signed away in the massive number of pages of legal language you agree to when you join.
Maybe it doesn’t matter today.
But we should always be thinking about tomorrow.
To quote the long-ago comic character Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”