Minority Report alert: FBI launching $1 billion face recognition project

fbi face scanning minority reportA little over a year ago, Facebook introduced face recognition software to the masses when it included the feature in its photo uploading process. And the masses, as you may assume, didn’t react all that well. There was plenty of conspiracy theory and privacy-concerned backlash, which died down as soon as everyone started talking about how the service was opt-in only. Since then, the feature has faded into the background and taken its rightful place among other Facebook-announcements-that-cause-us-to-wield-pitchforks-for-a-week-but-then-everyone’s-over-it.

But now, concerns over consumers’ image privacy have been resurrected by a billion dollar FBI project. According to New Scientist, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is launching a $1 billion effort called the Next Generation Identification (NGI) program, which will use face detection as well as “biometrics such as iris scans, DNA analysis, and voice identification to the toolkit.” The system is already being ushered in, as some states have started uploaded images (currently it sounds as if this is limited to mugshots); it’s expected to be implemented nationwide by 2014.

As all things start, intentions are good: Such highly accurate identification systems would be used to focus on criminals faster, result in quicker arrests, and potentially stop illegal activity before it happens. Of course, all of that sounds incredibly Minority Report-ish – including this example use:

“Images of a person of interest from security cameras or publics photos uploaded onto the Internet could be compared against a national repository of images held by the FBI. An algorithm would perform an automatic search and return a list of potential hits for an office to sort through and use as possible leads for an investigation.”

While current states that have participated in the pilot program have been uploading mugshots for the NGI, it’s uncertain whether this will eventually extend to include all of our images. In fact, New Scientist pointedly asked the FBI this question and no response was given.

In case it isn’t clear enough, what we very possibly have in the works here is a national civilian photograph database. Right now, the FBI hasn’t reached that far, but it’s very easy to assume it will – and it’s all legal under the US Privacy Act. 

Before you start pointing fingers at user-facing (pun intended) face recognition software companies out there (think Face.com – now Facebook-owned – and Lambda Labs),know that Facebook wouldn’t have any part in this: I reached out and was told that that simply isn’t how its face recognition system works. “Just giving us a picture and asking us to search our database… it doesn’t work that way,” a Facebook rep tells me. “And it would be incredibly computationally expensive.”

Also, consider the amount of state and federal operations that have your images. Your license, your passport, your public transportation ID… it goes on and on. If the government wants to harness image identification, it can and it will, and it won’t have to rely on social networks for help. That said, our increasing comfort with putting our likenesses all over the Internet is only making it easier for this type of system to be enacted. 

Emerging Tech

An A.I. cracks the internet’s squiggly letter bot test in 0.5 seconds

How do you prove that you’re a human when communicating on the internet? The answer used to be by solving a CAPTCHA puzzle. But maybe not for too much longer. Here is the reason why.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Social Media

Hotel chain offers an Instagram ‘sitter’ who will post photos for you

If the pressure to post stunning Instagram photos is ruining your vacations, then how about hiring a local Instagram influencer to do the job for you while you go off and enjoy yourself? Well, such a service now exists.
Social Media

Ride the rails and share your stories with Amtrak’s new social media residency

Amtrak is looking for travel fans with a knack for telling stories on social media. The new Amtrak social media residency program wants amateur travelers to share photos, video, and written content from aboard long-distance trips.
Social Media

Hangouts isn’t being hung out to dry in 2020, Google says

According to a report, Google may shut down Google Hangouts by 2020. While Hangouts was once Google's top-tier messaging app, the app has since been neglected in favor of Android Messages.
Social Media

Tumblr bans nudity to create ‘a safe place for creative expression’

Tumblr will soon no longer allow images with adult content. The company says the change is one that's designed to help more creators feel comfortable sharing on the platform, but admits the change won't happen overnight.
Social Media

Members can share the same Story with Facebook’s new Group Stories

Facebook Group members can now view and share Group Stories. Unlike the Stories for an individual user, the new tool allows members to contribute to the same Group Story, if the feature isn't turned off by an admin.
Social Media

You can now share saved Facebook posts with a Pinterest-like collection tool

Facebook collections can now be shared with friends if you also want to allow them to contribute to the list. Facebook is rolling out an update that allows users to add a contributor to their collections, or lists of saved Facebook posts.
Mobile

Broadway actor tells Kanye West to get off his phone during opening night

Theater actors can get understandably upset when they spot someone in the audience fiddling with their phone instead of watching the show. The other night that audience member was Kanye West, and he got called out for it.
Social Media

This event topped Facebook’s biggest moments of the year — again

As the year comes to a close, Facebook is looking back on what users discussed most over the last year. For two years in a row, International Women's Day topped the list. So what else is on the list?
Social Media

This band owns Twitter, according to list of top accounts and tweets for 2018

What was the biggest buzz on Twitter in 2018? Twitter's 2018 Year in Review highlights the biggest tweets, accounts, and hashtags. The most-tweeted celebrities, movies, TV shows, athletes, politicians and more in Twitter's 2018 trends.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.
Home Theater

It took Tom Cruise to raise awareness of this troublesome TV setting

Tom Cruise, in an unexpected PSA tweet, asks you to turn off motion interpolation on your TV, but stops short of how to do it. Here's more on the topic, along with links to a guide on how to rid your TV of the dreaded "soap opera effect."