Does Visual Recognition Software Freak You Out?

Visual recognition software is being employed by brands, opportunist app developers, and governments alike. Are you concerned about your privacy, or do you feel the benefits of these algorithms outweigh the risks?

Does visual recognition software raise your privacy red flag? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Austin Carr wrote an interesting piece for Fast Company about Orbeus' Rekognition tool, which can identify within images age, emotion, gender, logos, and more. "Every time you upload photos to the service, we could learn your taste or general patterns from the images, which could allow more interested ads or content based on the context of your photos," Orbeus' CEO told my colleague.

The core concept behind this technology is far from unique. iPhoto includes facial recognition features. Google owns Pitt Pat and Facebook owns Face.com. Facedeals installs facial recognition cameras at local businesses. The cameras "recognize your face when you pass by, then check you in at the location." SceneTap's cameras scan patrons' faces to determine the male-to-female ratio in bars; the results are available to pub crawlers via an app. Kraft has experimented with a video kiosk that scans shoppers' faces to determine their age and gender--and make dinner recommendations (featuring recipes that incorporate Kraft products, of course). Criminals in the Mexican city of Leon must participate in an iris scanning program which uses scanner cameras to track their behavior throughout the city. FaceVACS-Video Scan "scans incoming video streams, detects multiple faces, and checks for possible watch list matches," and other facial recognition technologies could help identify arsonists. Cameras may even be used to help authorities decide whether or not you're lying to them. These are only a few examples of the ways in which visual recognition algorithms have become a part of our lives--whether we know about them or not. Obviously, some of these tools and ideas are more opt-in than others.

These tools are meant to make our lives easier and better. This attitude applies even to the visual recognition algorithms employed not by law enforcement, but by brands who want our money; if we are doomed as a species to spend our years on Earth bombarded by advertisements, they may as well be relevant advertisements, right? So why does visual recognition software make me--and many other people--a bit wary? Am I a technological philistine trapped in a social media editor's body? I don't consider myself anti-progress and I'm not a terribly paranoid person. I'm definitely not against visual recognition; I believe it can in many instances help make our lives safer and that it's often a smart tool for businesses.

That said, I can imagine scenarios that seem...intrusive. I don't feel super great about the idea that someday soon a supermarket might be able to guess my favorite brand of chips or keep track of my fluctuating weight. I am not madly in love with the idea that Facebook has the ability to identify our children in other people's photographs. There's more serious stuff to worry about, too, like identify theft: a Carnegie Mellon study declared that it's "possible to identify strangers and gain their personal information--perhaps even their Social Security number--by using face recognition software and social media profiles."

Does visual recognition software raise your privacy red flag? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

[Image: Flickr user InfoMofo]

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4 Comments

  • Fshineman

    i was living in the safest large city in the safest country before facial recognition. Constant surveillance is not a benefit to the public, only to the government and commerce.

  • Graeme Kilshaw

    I am developing and marketing new educational friendship cube visual recognition software.  Play, share, and learn with the Friendship Cube Group.

  • Bob Jacobson

    What benefits are there for the identified person other than the chance to be further sold to? Trivial upsides, massively poisonous downsides.

    it reminds one of the Police' song, "Every Breath You Take / Every Move You Make / I'll be Watching You."  One hell of a future for our children.  

    Our worst sci-fi nightmares are coming true.  Too much game-playing for sensation and not enough reading deeper into the texts, with their ethical and moral cautions.