Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Facebook recognizes you

Originally published 06/10/2011 on lubbockonline.com

On Tuesday the Facebook Blog's Justin Mitchell announced that to make tagging work better Facebook is using face recognition technology. The idea that Facebook is using face recognition on all the photos uploaded by all of it's 600,000,000 users concerns me. That Facebook is automatically opting us all into it annoys me. It should annoy you, too.

Facebook has created a huge database of unchangeable identifying information on it's users. If that doesn't bother you, think about how many databases get breached every year. If you want a worst case scenario, look at the Sony breach timeline at attrition.org. That's an average of a hack about every 3 days. Now think about the science of special effects makeup, a breach at Facebook, and your face being available on the black market.

Today this isn't a big deal, but what about 5 years from now? Then again, maybe it is a big deal today. Just about any scenario we can come up with sounds like something from Mission: Impossible, but what happens if a terrorist organization gets ahold of facial recognition data from Facebook. I'm not talking about pictures with your face tagged with your name. I'm talking about the data and algorithms Facebook uses to identify your face in pictures. With that data it could be possible for a terrorist to become anyone in Facebooks database, if only to get into the country. But what happens if they disguise themselves with your face and use it to buy bomb parts? Place a bomb while allowing your face to be seen by security cameras?

It's not very likely at this point, but do you want information that can identify you - information that cannot be changed, or not cheaply or easily, at any rate - being gathered by anyone, let alone, Facebook?

update:Michael Santarcangelo reports on the Security Catalyst blog that Google may be getting a very similar technology and does an excellent job of explaining the dangers.