With the announcement of a new facial recognition system, Facebook may unwittingly assist pedophiles in selecting new victims. The system will allow for a huge database of a billion Facebook users to connect people’s faces with their names, and for automated tagging of faces to go along with uploaded pictures by suggesting the names of the people in the photo upon upload. The new Facebook policy also includes minors, which means it will be extremely easy to identify and locate those minors by either taking a picture of them and uploading it to Facebook or coming across their picture on Facebook. As one commenter said “Awesome! Now I can take pictures of cute girls at the grocery store or at the park, upload them and Facebook will tell me who they are! (I’m pretty sure that’s not [how] it works but I’m sure it will get there.)”
It will get there, and it could allow for a frightening new way for pedophiles to target their victims. For example, a pedophile could be lurking around on the street, spot a 12 year old, snap her picture without her knowledge, and then upload it to Facebook. If that girl has a Facebook account, the pedophile will be provided with her name. Armed with her name, it is much easier for the pedophile to find out where she lives.
A pedophile could also be browsing his own Facebook account and simply run across a picture on the wall of a distant acquaintance. Now, it will be easy to obtain a name to go along with that picture. Facebook claims its new facial recognition plan is all about making it “easier” for users to tag pictures, but it’s not, in reality, about that. It’s about using our faces and names for advertising for which we will receive no compensation.
Facebook was recently sued for a cool 20 mil over this very same issue. Instead of realizing that the public does not want to be used in ads without giving permission or receiving compensation, Facebook went ahead and changed its policy language to state that it would be doing that, no matter what we think. Again, this also applies to minors.
Luckily, there are some organizations whose staff members are very concerned with the privacy matters this new facial recognition software dredges up. The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote an email to tech blog Techhive.com, explaining just how easy the new system will make it to identify people. “Facial recognition is especially troubling because cameras are ubiquitous and we routinely show our faces. And of course, one can take pictures of crowds, so it scales a bit better than, say, fingerprints,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Lee Tien.
Facebook defenders are quick to point out that it’s possible to “opt out” of the feature, but it doesn’t really matter. Facebook will still attempt to recognize and tag your face. It only means the system won’t be automated by suggesting your name to people who upload your photo.
The new Facebook facial recognition system will undoubtedly give pedophiles a new tool to be used at their convenience, to identify new victims by giving them almost police-level power to match names and faces. In addition to trolling around parks and outdoor spaces, surreptitiously snapping photos and uploading them, pedophiles could also easily look for pictures of kids online, copy them, upload them to Facebook and quickly find out their names. Facebook may an unwilling participant in assisting pedophiles to select victims, but the stark reality that facial recognition software makes it easier for pedophiles to do so cannot be ignored.
By: Rebecca Savastio