YouTube releases face-blurring tool to protect identities in videos

youtube face blurring tool

When breaking news transpires, the last thing on a bystander’s mind is who should and shouldn’t make it into the shot on a cell phone video. But in some politically sensitive climates, getting plastered all over the Internet in the wrong company can be a death sentence. To enable citizen journalists to protect the identity of individuals within videos, YouTube has announced the debut of its face blurring tool. Users who have made the site a bastion of citizen journalism now have a one-click solution to protect identities with the blurring of faces.

As sites like YouTube have become more and more ubiquitous, law enforcement agencies and other organizations increasingly turn to them to root out suspects. As such, YouTube is building tools that will offer a veil of anonymity within videos, motivated by the increasing importance and use of YouTube by citizen reporters. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism confirmed YouTube’s rising relevance with a study finding that YouTube was a top destination for news.

The face-blurring feature can be found within YouTube’s Video Enhancements tool, under “Additional Features.” Users must select the “Apply” button below “Blur All Faces.” A preview will be provided to verify that the user is content with the blurring.

Because the tool uses an emerging facial detection technology, the blurring in its present state is not fail safe, and it blurs all faces within the video — you can’t pick and choose who to hide and who to show. Additionally, depending on the lighting, angle and video quality, the algorithm may not detect every face within the video and fail to blur all faces in every frame.

Even with the new blurring tool, citizen journalists and their subjects risk being rooted out by authorities. There are other identifiable features within a video that could reveal identities including the surrounding location, clothing, and voices. With this in mind, YouTube has released a set of guidelines for users who want to upload videos to YouTube, but protect the identities of individuals captured in the video.

  1. Assess your risk – Videographers should understand that uploading a video online may result in unintended consequences that could put the uploader and the individuals identified in the video at risk.
  2. Consider other information which may give away identity – A face is not the only feature that could identify an individual within a video, even if his or her face is blurred. Clothing, the surrounding, voices and name tags can also easily give away someone’s identity.
  3. Protect yourself when uploading – Local laws may enable authorities to track the mobile device that a YouTuber uploads their video from. This threat is very real as Google has been known to comply with law enforcement in handing over the online activity of suspicious individuals.
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