Skip to main content

Study shows face recognition technology can reveal much more than your image

face recognition - human qr code Face recognition software has been available for awhile, but we’ve only seen it implemented into consumer-level products recently. Facebook rolled out its automatic photo-tagging service earlier this year, which continues to concern users to varying degrees, and iOS 5 and Google products are likely to sport applications running face recognition technology.

Reactions have been everything from complete acceptance to shocked outrage. What’s one more piece of information for these platforms? Apple, Google, and Facebook already know everything about us, so why not integrate this data into a useful feature? On the other hand, if a Website that already holds everything about you can also recognize you, does that mean privacy and anonymity are officially dead for Internet users? It also means you could image search for a person with nothing but a photo of them–which has plenty of upsetting implications.

But with the slow and minimal product roll outs we’ve seen thus far (and the ability to uninstall them), the scare factor lies mostly around the “could bes” and “what ifs.” That clearly is not the case anymore: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said that with nothing but a photo, they could identify strangers, and that part of time these photos coupled with information from Facebook, social security numbers could be partially predicted.

According to a press release, the study was led by associate professor of information technology Alessandro Acquisti. He and his team want to reveal the power of a photo paired with social networks. “In one experiment, Acquisti’s team identified individuals on a popular online dating site where members protect their privacy through pseudonyms. In a second experiment, they identified students walking on campus – based on their profile photos on Facebook. In a third experiment, the research team predicted personal interests and, in some cases, even the Social Security numbers of the students, beginning with only a photo of their faces.”

The study also took the photos of about 90 students, which were then uploaded and compared to hundreds of thousands of Facebook photos from the profiles of students from the same school. In seconds, there were 10 possible matches, and the participants confirmed their images were found more than 30 percent of the time. So while this system isn’t foolproof (yet), it works and could easily be exploited in the wrong hands.

Privacy in the Internet age continues to be a moving target, but this latest step forward could very well mean the end of it for social network users. If you want to have a Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or whatever profile and allow photos to be a part of that, it means you could very well be sacrificing your anonymity. As digital and actual realities continue to merge into one existence, it means that the possibility of going unidentified and being Internet user is less and less likely.

The study also questions what this means for human interaction. Will we default to our social networks and electronic devices to identify and asses a person, or will we rely on personal experiences and instincts? It’s unlikely anything will be able to halt this evolution, so it’s important to consider how our privacy and relationships may be changing –and to try and limit the impact it has by staying as human as possible.

Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
How to create multiple profiles on a Facebook account
A series of social media app icons on a colorful smartphone screen.

Facebook (and, by extension, Meta) are particular in the way that they allow users to create accounts and interact with their platform. Being the opposite of the typical anonymous service, Facebook sticks to the rule of one account per one person. However, Facebook allows its users to create multiple profiles that are all linked to one main Facebook account.

In much the same way as Japanese philosophy tells us we have three faces — one to show the world, one to show family, and one to show no one but ourselves — these profiles allow us to put a different 'face' out to different aspects or hobbies. One profile can keep tabs on your friends, while another goes hardcore into networking and selling tech on Facebook Marketplace.

Read more
How to set your Facebook Feed to show most recent posts
A smartphone with the Facebook app icon on it all on a white marble background.

Facebook's Feed is designed to recommend content you'd most likely want to see, and it's based on your Facebook activity, your connections, and the level of engagement a given post receives.

But sometimes you just want to see the latest Facebook posts. If that's you, it's important to know that you're not just stuck with Facebook's Feed algorithm. Sorting your Facebook Feed to show the most recent posts is a simple process:

Read more
How to go live on TikTok (and can you with under 1,000 followers?)
Tik Tok

It only takes a few steps to go live on TikTok and broadcast yourself to the world:

Touch the + button at the bottom of the screen.
Press the Live option under the record button.
Come up with a title for your live stream. 
Click Go Live to begin.

Read more