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EFF: Americans May Not Know It, But Many Are In a Face Recognition Database Now 152

Posted by samzenpus
from the smile-you're-in-the-database dept.
colinneagle writes "People are not going to, nor should they have to, start walking around outside with a bag over their head to avoid security cameras capturing images of them. Yet 'face recognition allows for covert, remote and mass capture and identification of images — and the photos that may end up in a database include not just a person's face but also how she is dressed and possibly whom she is with. This creates threats to free association and free expression not evident in other biometrics,' testified EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. There are 32 states that use some form of facial recognition for DMV photos. Every day, Facebook happily slurps up and automatically scans with facial recognition software about 300 million photos that users upload to the social networking giant. 'Face recognition is here to stay, and, though many Americans may not realize it, they are already in a face recognition database,' Lynch said. In fact, when you stop to consider Facebook "at least 54% of the United States population already has a face print." Now it purchased Face.com which had 31 billion face images profiled."
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EFF: Americans May Not Know It, But Many Are In a Face Recognition Database Now

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  • by jc42 (318812) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:13PM (#40706927) Homepage Journal
    Whaddaya wanna bet that there are no more than 15 billion distinct faces in that collection?
    • No, the rest are visiting aliens from Betelgeuse...
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Whaddaya wanna bet that there are no more than 15 billion distinct faces in that collection?

      How many with a figure up the nose to the second knuckle?

      third knuckle, coulda been him, but maybe not...

    • by guttentag (313541) on Friday July 20, 2012 @05:45AM (#40709159) Journal

      Whaddaya wanna bet that there are no more than 15 billion distinct faces in that collection?

      I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that those 31 billion faces represent less than 3 billion individual people. The other 28 billion faces represent the various faces of about 150,000 politicians. These days it's no longer sufficient to be two-faced in politics. You have to be at least 170,000-faced to get into office and get re-elected.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:13PM (#40706929)

    I suppose then I have nothing to worry about, since my profile pics are usually cartoons, inanimate objects, and internet memes.

    TSA Agent: "Uhh, miss, you don't look anything like your photo." (holds up photo of pedobear)
    Me: (triple facepalm)

    • by AHuxley (892839) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:39PM (#40707107) Homepage Journal
      The problem is your 'work' and 'education' images flow into the system.
      Your 3rd or 4th year prof, the nice one do DoD work? Work with a DoD cleared .com? Work on some public/private security board?
      They clear his/her family, friends and "colleagues" and any students.
      Want a bank account, passport, trendy job, home? Your going to have to prove who you are more and more.
      Local Feature Analysis (LFA) vs the hinted at speed of nodal point databases and say the known US populations size...
      The only block in the past was states that went cheap on their DMV databases. Create a card and keep that local database running was about all they could do.
      So have fun at your next peace or Tibet or green or wealth protest event. Digital or real someone has you face and ip :)
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        At least in the USA nobody can ID you when it comes time to vote...
    • by AaronMK (1375465)
      As soon as someone tags you in a photo on a social networking site, that cartoon profile pic cover is blown.
      • by mug funky (910186)

        or you could be tagged along with 50 other people in a lolcat that a friend wanted you all to see.

    • You are naive (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:35PM (#40707429)

      I think you're being naive, I am very careful never to post any image of myself anywhere, and yet when I go looking in Facebook I can find images of me associated with my name.

      The trouble is, people who know will keep posting pictures and then identifying those pictures. They have no idea what a nightmare they're creating for themselves.

      When one of my wifes friends split with her boyfriend, he dug through her facebook friends and started visiting them at home to see if his ex was staying. Suddenly they all realize what they've done with their FB data sharing, but by then its too late.

      So you can say you've been careful, but can you say that about everyone you know, who knows you??

      • by mosb1000 (710161)

        I don't see how not being on Facebook would have prevented it. Being her boyfriend, he'd have access to her other contact lists as well.

      • Re:You are naive (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bieber (998013) on Friday July 20, 2012 @03:42AM (#40708613)
        If you're that worried about obscenely uncommon edge cases, you might as well just lock yourself up in your house (the location of which you'll presumably permit no one to know) and never see the light of day again. Every time you go out in public people get the chance to see you, to interact with you, to find out who you are. And you know what? The vast, vast majority of the time that's exactly what you want: community is the most basic element of our existence, and we thrive on being connected to other people.

        Facebook is just one more means to share information that I want people to know. Is it remotely possible that some creep could end up using information shared on Facebook to stalk or harass me? Sure. However, it's an absolute fact that being able to rapidly share photos, events, even just amusing little quips for friends to see, respond to and comment on is a great boon. For the price of a couple minutes spared glancing through my newsfeed every now and then, I can get a quick overview of what the people I care about (and even ones that I only peripherally care about) are up to. Instead of contacts going stale when people move away and get preoccupied with their new lives, I'm able to keep in at least light contact with dozens of people from my past who would have otherwise been all but forgotten by now, keep track of what they're up to and find out when our locations happen to coincide.

        Is listing your home address on FB next to photos of your children and setting your privacy level to "public" a great idea? Certainly not, but taking a reasonable, measured approach to social networking certainly is. If someone on the Internet is able to somehow find a photo of my face with my name attached to it, I'm sorry but it just doesn't seem like too hefty a concern to me.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jahta (1141213)

          If you're that worried about obscenely uncommon edge cases, you might as well just lock yourself up in your house.

          Increasingly, this is sadly not an edge case.

          BBC News - Facial recognition marks the end of anonymity [bbc.co.uk]

          Being able to photograph a random stranger and, with the picture, pull up personal details about the person is genuinely disturbing.

          • Being able to photograph a random stranger and, with the picture, pull up personal details about the person is what is going to allow our Dunbar number to astronomically rise and to facilitate social interaction and organization on an *unheard of* level in human history.
      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Yeah, I've seen too many pictures of your face around, AC.

    • It's all fun and games today - we can drop our social networking sites or choose not to participate and it's no big deal.

      I'm waiting for the day when insurance companies get in on the game and give you discounts or increase your rates depending on data mining of your social profile. If you want those discounts, you hand them the social data (like how people give up their purchasing data with store loyalty cards). If you refuse to provide that data, you get the"standard" (read: expensive) rate.

      I am fair

      • by Obsi (912791)

        If you refuse to provide that data... or if you don't have social networking accounts.

      • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Friday July 20, 2012 @06:19AM (#40709317) Journal
        That's the "Amercians may not know" mistake right there (and that goes for non-Americans as well, of course)

        It's all fun and games today - we can drop our social networking sites or choose not to participate and it's no big deal.

        Even if you drop all social media accounts and stop participating... your friends won't. They upload a few nice photos from the company picnic, upload them to Facebook / Google+, and obligingly tag all persons in those photos (including you). Now Zuck & Brinster have a name to go with your face, which they can apply to all subsequent photos with you in it.

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        I'm waiting for the day when insurance companies get in on the game and give you discounts or increase your rates depending on data mining of your social profile. If you want those discounts, you hand them the social data (like how people give up their purchasing data with store loyalty cards). If you refuse to provide that data, you get the"standard" (read: expensive) rate.

        That sounds like too much trouble for them to go through when people will willingly give up their data. At least one of the insurance companies here in the US will (maybe) offer you a discount if you are willing to plug a monitoring device into your car's OBD-II port for a while and let them monitor your driving habits.

    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:57PM (#40707519)
      You're a fool if you think that kind of thing is going to protect you. In fact, it probably makes it easier for them to identify you. Do they care what you're face really looks like? Not at all... their sole goal is to ID you when you visit some site, so they know what to try and sell you. If your profile pic is the FreeBSD devil, and your at the same IP with the same browser they picked up from that porn site you were just at... they pretty much have you. You are not, even remotely, anonymous on the internet. Assume that every website you visit has every bit of information about you that's on your drivers license and knows every site you've visited in the past couple of years, irrelevant of any security steps you took. Because the fact of the matter is, if they're willing to pay for the right software, that's exactly the kind of detail they have. I'm not just being paranoid, I've seen this software work on the back end. There are multiple companies out there offering it, it's cheap in enterprise terms. I think the only real hurtle so far has being the imaginations of marketing departments. The data is there... it's the smarts to do something terrible with it that have yet to arrive. 1984 was a joke compared to what's on the way if we let this keep heading where it's going. And it certainly seems like we are.

      Think about it like this. Given that what ever you post here will likely be stored forever... and given what you think is likely to happen over your lifetime with all this stored data... would you be willing to denounce the government that rules whatever country you're from right here for all to see? Maybe you would... but you hesitated... you thought about it for a second. And the fact that you have to even be slightly concerned about what you said, means we're all truly, and completely fucked.
      • I didn't hesitate.
        Fuck the US government.

        The key is to organize your life so that such things can have no impact on you either way. Like me, for example - I'm unemployable. Problem solved.

    • You assume you're not in anyone else's pictures.
  • Minority Report (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Andrio (2580551) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:25PM (#40707001)
    It'll end up like in Minority Report where the advertisements scanned people's eyes to identify and tailor ads to them. Only instead of eyes, faces will be scanned. Which is probably scarier, since scanning a face requires no special biometric equipment. It just needs an old fashioned camera and an internet connection, so that the face image can be sent to a server and processed.
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday July 20, 2012 @12:05AM (#40707557) Journal
      It kind of makes me sad that all the dystopian capabilities are being created, but are mainly being used for advertising instead of the hot-evil-cool dystopia we were promised.
      • by ozmanjusri (601766) <(aussie_bob) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Friday July 20, 2012 @03:22AM (#40708547) Journal

        If you want a picture of the future, imagine a Coke ad stamped on a human face — forever.

    • by isorox (205688)

      It'll end up like in Minority Report where the advertisements scanned people's eyes to identify and tailor ads to them. Only instead of eyes, faces will be scanned. Which is probably scarier, since scanning a face requires no special biometric equipment. It just needs an old fashioned camera and an internet connection, so that the face image can be sent to a server and processed.

      I'm registered for IRIS entry into the UK, it's brilliant and saves me hours every month. It takes a while to read my iris pattern (look into the mirror, stand a little closer)

      When I fly domestically, they have recently started using face recognition at Heathrow, rather than an old fashioned camera. Out of 4 trips in the last 2 weeks, this has failed 3 times, despite standing at the exact spot, looking in the exact place, and waiting for 20 seconds while the lights stay red.

  • Only women? (Score:3, Funny)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:26PM (#40707011)

    not just a person's face but also how she is dressed and possibly whom she is with.

    Funny, I didn't notice anything about the technology only working on females.

    • by Goaway (82658)

      If it had said "he", would you have made a similar post?

      • If it had said "he", would you have made a similar post?

        Nope. Because in English, "he" is the personal pronoun for males and for persons of unspecific sex. "She" is the personal pronoun for females and for personified objects such as ships and nations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:27PM (#40707021)

    For the longest time I didn't have a Facebook page because I am a very private person. I used an avatar instead of a photograph thinking that that would suffice.

    The very next day when I logged in I saw that multiple people had uploaded photos with me in them, tagged me and added my full name after I had SPECIFICALLY asked them NOT to do so. They laughed it off and eventually got angry when they realized how pissed off I was. When I told one to remove the photos she point blank said, "No. Because you're being fucking PARANOID. This'll do you some good."

    So yeah, I'm sure that I'm in there. Screw people.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So much this..

      This feels like one of those things that should actually be illegal somehow.. but I can't think of any sane way to frame what exactly is being violated and why it shouldn't be ok..

      Maybe it should go under the same laws that prevent the media from showing your face on TV without your permission?

    • by arth1 (260657) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:15PM (#40707311) Homepage Journal

      For the longest time I didn't have a Facebook page because I am a very private person. I used an avatar instead of a photograph thinking that that would suffice.

      The very next day when I logged in I saw that multiple people had uploaded photos with me in them, tagged me and added my full name after I had SPECIFICALLY asked them NOT to do so. They laughed it off and eventually got angry when they realized how pissed off I was. When I told one to remove the photos she point blank said, "No. Because you're being fucking PARANOID. This'll do you some good."

      The problem was the opposite - you weren't paranoid, but too unconcerned. You "friended" people you had no reason to trust, and it turned out they weren't trustworthy.

      I have used Facebook for exactly one thing - creating an empty profile and then deliberately disabling the associated e-mail address and erasing the password.
      Friends? That's people who have earned my trust, and my friendship and trust does not extend to their friends.
      I'd rather have five friends than fifty "friends".

      There are 3-4 pictures of me on the Internet, but none of them are good enough to recognize me by. And that's fine with me. I'm far from anonymous, but I'm not public domain either.

      • People can tag anyone on Facebook. A random person could take a picture of you and tag you in it without you even having a Facebook account.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      That's why I avoid making friends with humans. A chimp might rip your face off but he'll never giver your email address to spammers or tag you on Facebook without permission.
    • by twocows (1216842)
      That's illegal, and you can take action. If she's not going to respect your wishes, she's not your friend.
    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      Facebook avoiders are ridiculous. Do you honestly think the government doesn't have your picture? Or that advertisers can't figure out your demographic? Unless you literally live under a rock, off the grid and no one knows you, all you're succeeding at is being a troglodyte.

    • See, this issue is a lot bigger than Facebook, IMO. I'm not sure you have any right to control how other people choose to display or label photographs they possess, even IF they happen to have your face in them?

      So you can get angry about it all you want, but you don't really have any leverage to force someone to comply with you removal request.

      Note: I'm not saying this is necessarily how it should be, but merely that it would appear to be the way it works currently. After all, photographers who you pay to

  • by middlemen (765373) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:40PM (#40707109) Homepage
    http://www.theonion.com/video/cias-facebook-program-dramatically-cut-agencys-cos,19753/ [theonion.com] Months ago the Onion came out with this news.. the EFF is just catching up to the reality of it.
  • Seeing a woman's clothes would be just the worst thing ever about this entire photo system!

    Please try again when you have a story

  • by tpstigers (1075021) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @10:51PM (#40707181)
    They all scoffed when I went to grad school to get my Master of Disguise degree.....
  • I mean, unless it's possible for anybody to arbitrarily bring up pictures of a person just by typing in their name, I'm really not so sure I see the point in wasting energy worrying about whether or not my own face is in such a database.
  • I knew my large beard would come in handy!

    I can rob a bank then just shave it off!

    And yes, I really do have a magnificent beard. a few more years and I'll be ready to join ZZ Top! Facial hair for the obfuscation!

    • by sqrt(2) (786011)

      Any sufficiently oppressive government could just ban excessive facial hair, defined as any amount of hair which interferes with your face being reliably scanned.

  • I thought most people know whether or not they have a Facebook account.

  • by Midnight_Falcon (2432802) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:01PM (#40707231)

    Of course, it's concerning that facebook profiles, pictures of you going through customs or from a drivers license etc, are now beginning to be tapped into by the government and private sector alike.
    In this case, while I think it's a cause for concern for almost every facebook user, the folks I have the most concern about are activists of various sorts.

    Facebook, while famed for its use in the Arab Spring for facilitating communication between activists, hardly seems like a bastion of privacy for US citizens. The Arab spring was a bit different than the activism the US or other Western governments would like to target though -- in fact, they encouraged the uprisings. What about forms of dissent that the US or Western governments don't like?
    The most prominent recent example is Occupy Wall Street, and regardless what you think about their message, it's easy to see how some subpoenas to facebook could be used to completely subvert an opposition organization. They would be able to find who these activists are without even arresting them -- they'd be able to use facial recognition software, get information on all their friends and relationships on facebook, and then track them between rallies and protests etc. with more facial recognition.

    Imagine if the FBI had this ability in the 1960s to crack down on the civil rights movement?

    Maybe a decentralized, p2p form of social networking will make facial recognition and tracking etc more difficult for governments and private companies in the future? Or is it already too late for most since the information is all on Facebook to stay?

    • Imagine if the FBI had this ability in the 1960s to crack down on the civil rights movement?

      http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_image.cfm?image_id=1893&language=english [ghi-dc.org]

  • by ls671 (1122017) on Thursday July 19, 2012 @11:35PM (#40707425) Homepage

    I have have been saying it for a while to many people. Not only face recognition which is more recent while voice recognition has been around for decades.

    AI systems generates reports for humans to handle. Depending on the humans handling the reports, handling techniques may vary. With well trained handlers, it works well with very few false positives. Unfortunately, well trained handlers are rare and more and more of that functionality is being made available to untrained people.

  • "In fact, when you stop to consider Facebook "at least 54% of the United States population already has a face print.",

    If Gimili the Dwarf ever commits a crime I'm fucked.

  • ...it's more like - there isn't a shit load we can do about it, so no one cares.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The face recognition demos are nothing more than sales gimmicks. Once you add more faces to the database the misrecognition rate approaches infinity. System is somewhat able to pick high worth targets out of a crowd but worthless if your goal is mass surveillance.

  • There was a good article about this in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/21558263 [economist.com]

    Few of Afghanistan's 30m people have a birth certificate, a second name or can read. Yet America's army and the Afghan government have collected digital records of more than 2.5m of them. Elsewhere such intrusions would have caused an outcry. But few Afghans, so far, have protested. American officers praise the technology as a helpful counter-insurgency tool: if opponents can be identified, they can be separated from the wider, law-abiding populace.

    The data are passed on beyond Afghanistan, to America's army, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Agreements to share data exist with dozens of allied countries. American soldiers in Ghazni once described scanning a dead insurgent, then two days later getting a call from the CIA to say that his record matched someone first scanned in Iraq. Yet as the system grows, so do worries about it. It is involuntary and shrouded in secrecy. It is easy to come across Afghans who claim that they were wrongly denied foreign visas or jobs after a biometric scan flagged up their presence on some watchlist. Evidence held against them is rarely divulged, nor is it clear how they can challenge it.

    “There is a vetting process to be put on a watchlist,” says Sergeant-Major Robert Haemmerle, of the American army's Afghanistan biometrics programme. “It's not just a matter of ‘I don't like this guy'. There is a deliberate policy and process to ensure that people's rights are respected, that it's not abused.”

    Yet those policies and processes are kept classified by NATO and America's Defence Department. Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group based in San Francisco that keeps a watch on how digital technology encroaches on civil freedoms, also questions the quality of the data. She fears that scans done quickly in the field, or by inexperienced technicians, could lead to cases of mistaken identity.

    But the more people who are scanned, the more powerful the database becomes.

    But it's not like the US is scanning everyone who enters the country, and adding them to this database . . .

    . . . yet.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      But it's not like the US is scanning everyone who enters the country, and adding them to this database . . .

      Huh? Of course it does. If you're a foreigner, you get your fingerprints and face scanned every time you enter; if you are a citizen, your passport application involved giving them a picture that is uploaded and is checked against you every time you enter. The data sharing between border security and three letter agencies is then left as an exercise to the IT contractor.

    • Evidence held against them is rarely divulged, nor is it clear how they can challenge it.

      And therein lies the problem. They want to know everything about us. They want to share it amongst themselves.

      BUT, when we want to know how our information is being used, stored, or managed, it's a big secret. When we want to know about them, it's a secret (remember how Mark Z got pissed when people got into his FB profile).

      Combine that with secret court trials and other such things and it's damn scary.

  • It's like some sort of race to see which pays off more; me not joining facebook or me not investing in facebook. Anyone else in the same boat as me? I put up a fake profile for a week to see who from high school got fat and ugly but I was one of the thousand or so "Rusty Shackleford" accounts (very fitting if you know the reference btw). Image search him. I don't think they'll be finding that in a crowd lol.
  • Face recognition software doesn't work like a barcode. Like a medical test, it has some error rate. So, even if people managed to get it down to an error rate of 1%, that means that a search will pull up 10000 people if you're living in a city of 1 million and you restrict the search to the city. Attempts by police to deploy face-based monitoring at airports and other public sites have been spectacular failures.

  • start walking around outside with a bag over their head to avoid security cameras capturing images of them. Yet 'face recognition allows for covert, remote and mass capture and identification of images — and the photos that may

    You mean like [typepad.com] the Muzzies [faithfreedom.org] do [aclj.org]

  • As the database grows and the authorities start to rely on it more in finding suspect terrorists, drug dealers etcetera the more occurrences of the false positive paradox will take place, effectively increasing investigative workload.

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