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Something Even Worse than Big Brother: Google Face Detection

May 13th, 2011 by

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m personally freaked out by what Google is up to these days. It would appear that in its quest to stretch the reach of its influence and dominance, Google is now working on something that could potentially revolutionize mobile social media – and not necessarily for the better. What am I talking about? I’m talking about Google Face Detection.

You’re probably wondering what I’m so worked up about. If so, you probably have the wrong idea of how the program operates. When I first heard of it, I immediately assumed it was some sort of software that would work through a webcam to positively identify you when you sit down in front of your desktop or laptop – sort of like a much less invasive retinal scan. But that’s not what Google Face Detection is at all.

What it is, in a nutshell, is a technology that may soon come your way via a mobile social media app that you can use to identify someone by simply snapping their picture. The application works by running the person’s image through facial recognition software to find out who they are. If their information is found, it’ll immediately fork over the kind of private data that some people pay a monthly fee to keep revealed. We’re not talking about Social Security Numbers or anything, but we are talking about full names, addresses, and phone numbers. So what’s the big deal? Here’s the big deal.

Google says that in order to be “found” using the app, an individual will have to jump through a few hoops to do so – but in the end, those hoops will amount to nothing more than a couple of “CYA” opt-in forms telling Google that you’re cool with everyone having access to the basics of your identity. And maybe you are, who knows? After all, not everyone in the world likes to live like they’re constantly on the run from someone or something. But I wonder how many people will feel the same after they get a midnight phone call from some stranger who saw them at a restaurant, snapped a pic, got their name and number, and decided to try forcing a friendship.

Of course, this sort of scenario is probably very unlikely. The fact is, not everyone in the world is a raving lunatic out to get you. Where I’m concerned, I feel pretty safe – I’m not exactly in danger of being singled out and stalked for my physical beauty. But I certainly wouldn’t want my own kids leaving themselves vulnerable to this type of technology. Forget issues of social media privacy for a second – we’re talking about physical safety here.

To its credit, Google is going about the whole thing extremely carefully. Which really only makes me more nervous. That, to me, indicates that someone there knows they’ve developed a technology with unforeseeable ramifications, and they’re almost afraid to implement it. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. Or maybe they’re thinking exactly what I’m thinking – like what could conceivably happen in cases of mistaken identity when the person in the crosshairs just happens to resemble someone that broke your heart 10 years ago… or someone last seen fleeing the scene of a crime. Throw in the hero factor and you’ve got a recipe for disaster where you might actually welcome the roving eye of Big Brother to keep you safe from the misplaced wrath of angry strangers. And that, my friends, is the scariest thought of all.


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