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Duh! That’s why it’s called “Face”book! :-)

Today, at the Black Hat security conference, Carnegie Mellon University researcher Alessandro Acquisti showed how to use Facebook photos to ID people on dating sites and on the street! Acquisti created a database of about 25,000 photos assembled from the profiles of students on Facebook. Then, Acquisti set up a desk in a campus building and asked volunteers to sit in front of Webcams. The outcome: 31% of the students identified after, on average, 3 seconds of comparison!

Remember, this work was done by academic researchers, NOT by “the pros!” :-) The results of the study by Acquesti in collaboration with Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman are here. The work was funded in part by the U.S. Army. :-) The Carnegie Mellon researchers also developed an iPhone app that can photograph someone, send the photo through facial recognition software, and then display the name and basic information about the person on the screen. (Awhile ago, I wrote about Google rejecting a similar app that it had developed for Android phones on a “privacy” basis, as reported by CNET.) My personal belief is that photos taken on cell phones and released to “The Cloud” (a third party that would waive your Fourth Amendment Rights) could be stored or processed in real time by U.S. government agencies after interfacing with telecommunications carriers at places like Folsom Street in San Francisco.

(Then, after the U.S. government gets them, they could be stolen by the Chinese! :-) )

I have written about facial recognition systems on several occasions, notably (“Freedom, in a Technical Age”) on U.S. Independence Day in 2010.

In another experiment, 277,978 Facebook profiles (unique faces were found in about 40% by the software) were compared with 6,000 profiles that were extracted from a dating site. Around 10% of the dating site members were identified – most of these were using pseudonyms.

The CNET article discusses several companies and software products that use facial recognition software, and I discussed several in my Independence Day blog last year. The article questions that, if university researchers can do such things with Facebook photos, what can the PROFESSIONALS do with passport photos or driver’s license photos? The FBI has used facial recognition with driver’s license photos for years!

It is very difficult or impossible to put “Geniesback in bottles, and databases are “forever,” so it looks like our society will be living with increasing facial recognition capabilities for a long time.

It is very important to understand some of the capabilities of modern technologies, and how they affect our freedoms and our lives.

-Bill at

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