Social media profile pics are a gateway to privacy breaches

social media profile pics are a gateway to privacy breaches face recognition

Soon, hiding behind pseudonyms on the Internet will likely be a thing of the past. In a presentation at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, Alessandro Acquisti presented the results of research in which he showed how, with basic off-the-shelf facial recognition software, he could dig up tons of information on people using nothing but their profile pictures.

In the vast social media landscape, one can make oneself unsearchable by changing personal data: name, address, email, anything correlated from one profile to the next. So while your employer might find your well-manicured Facebook page, there’d be nothing searchable to connect you to the N*Sync fan club you signed up for with a fake name. The only chance someone would have of finding you would be if they randomly stumbled across your secret profile with your photo attached, and what are the odds of that? 

Things are about to change. Acquisti, an associate professor of IT at Carnegie Mellon University, has shown just how easy it is now to create programs to datamine with images. In one experiment, Acquisti’s team developed a program to automatically search for and download publicly available Facebook profile pictures, eventually compiling a database of 275,000 faces. They then built up another database of individuals from the same city on a local dating site.

Using software developed at Carnegie Mellon called Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, the team was able to automatically cross-reference the databases to search for matches without doing any text-based searches. According to Computerworld, 5,800 of the Facebook members also had dating site profiles, of which about 4,900 had unique (i.e. fake) names and personal data. Combined with previous CMU study that showed around 90% of Facebook users use their real name, the results show that a) a whole lot of dating site users are using pseudonyms and b) if someone finds your photo attached to your real name, they can find data on you that you previously thought was hidden.

Of course, ethics of dating sites aside, one could protect their private profiles by using a different person or image for their profile photo, which already happens a fair bit anyway. But that’s kind of beside the point. What Acquisti showed is that the entire way we think of searching the Internet (using text) is no longer the only option, and it has major ramifications for privacy and anonymity. Right now, you can walk around knowing that it’s pretty difficult for someone to find out who you are, short of you sharing that info or your wallet getting stolen. It may not be the case for long, now that Acquisti has now shown that the technology is there to treat someone’s face like a regular old QR code.

Photo via Flickr

Emerging Tech

Researchers gave alligators headphones and ketamine, and all for a good cause

Researchers in Germany and the United States recently gave ketamine and earphones to alligators to monitor how they process sounds. Here's what it reveals about alligator evolution.
Mobile

Wring the most out of iOS with the best commands for Siri

You may not know all the things you can say to Siri -- after all, Apple never released an official list of commands for its virtual assistant. Thankfully, we've compiled a list of the best Siri commands to help you out.
Photography

Looking to keep prying eyes at bay? Here's how to hide photos on your iPhone

People take tons of photos using their smartphones, but not all are meant to be shared or seen. Luckily, hiding photos on your iOS device is easy, whether you want to use built-in utilities or apps with added security.
Computing

Sending SMS messages from your PC is easier than you might think

Texting is a fact of life, but what to do when you're in the middle of something on your laptop or just don't have your phone handy? Here's how to send a text message from a computer, whether you prefer to use an email client or Windows 10.
Computing

Calibrate your display to get it looking just the way you like it

Want to see images the way they're intended to be seen? Here is our quick guide on how to calibrate your monitor using your operating system or another tool, to make what's on the screen look as good as it can.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.
Emerging Tech

Twitter is officially a teenager now. Are we raising a monster?

On March 21, 2006, Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet. Thirteen years later, Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. Here are some of the myriad ways it's done that.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers plan to beam Earth’s greatest hits into deep space, and you can help

A new project from the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) will give the public the chance to submit compositions to be beamed into space, with the aim of connecting people around the world through music.
Emerging Tech

Scientists have a way to turn off alcoholism: Blasting the brain with lasers

Researchers from Scripps Research have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the desire to drink in alcohol-dependent rats by targeting a part of the brain using lasers. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

China has cloned its best police dog. Now it wants to mass-produce more

Scientists in China have cloned the Sherlock Holmes of police sniffer dogs, with possible plans to mass produce it in the future. Here's why its creators think that's a great idea.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can comfortably fit on the side of your desk… well, Danish company Cobod International’s enormous new 3D house printer probably isn’t for you.
Deals

Need a ride? Amazon is slashing prices on popular electric scooters

If you’re not much of a cyclist or if you’re looking for a lazier way to zip about town, an electric scooter should be right up your alley. Two of our favorites, the foldable Glion Dolly and the eco-friendly Razor scooter, are on sale…
Emerging Tech

Unexpected particle plumes discovered jetting out of asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx craft traveled to asteroid Bennu last year and won't return until 2023. But the mission is already throwing up unexpected findings, like plumes of particles which are being ejected from the surface of the asteroid.