Thought for the Day: Photo Bots

I was listening to This Week in Tech today, and in this week’s show Brian Brushwood pointed out something I hadn’t thought of. There are two things on a collision course right now- Facial Recognition Technology and Privacy.

As more and more people put their information into Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and whatever else pops up, they’re leaving a huge data trail which can be used to build a profile of who they are. This is nothing new, of course, and anyone using the Web should be well aware of this. What people might not think so much about, however, is the visual presence we’re also leaving.

This will be no surprise to people who use Google’s Picasa photo organization software, but facial recognition technology that allows computers to recognize individual people is becoming faster and more accurate by the minute. The previously mentioned product automatically begins categorizing all your photos by the people in the pictures without you needing to tag them. You just need to “train” the software what people’s names are, and say whether a few unclear shots of them are that person, and it’s off and running through your collection finding them. Each new version of Picasa has gotten better and faster at this, and did I mention it’s a Google product?

So how do these two things combine, and what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that very soon it will be effortless to match that profile they’re building of you with every photo of you ever put online- even the ones you don’t know about. By this, I mean the ones where you’re in the background, or part of a group shot, or the ones that were taken at that party in high school where you were so wasted you don’t remember dancing naked on the coffee table.

Those pictures.

No picture in which you appear (unless you’re in makeup or really fuzzy) that has ever leaked online will disappear ever. Right now, they’re buried in the mass of the internet, but thanks to Bots (automated computer programs that sift through data) they can and will be found.

By the school you applied to.

By the job you applied for.

By your children.

By your friends.

By that person you just asked out… Nothing will stay buried.

It sounds like science fiction, but we already have photo search engines. Searching for people within those photos is child’s play.

It won’t be long before this includes finding people in videos online as well, it’s just a matter of time.

Make sure the image you leave is one you want remembered- because it will be.

Rob