Public Facial Recognition: The End of Privacy or Awesome Use of Technology?

July 18, 2010 — 15 Comments

Mark Cuban just blogged about a new company he just invested in. While he didn’t give any details about who the company is, he did outline some of the key features. The two main features he described are: 1) Accurate, real-time stats on how many people or vehicles are in a given place at a particular time; and 2) Facial recognition of people in public places. Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote:

The next extension is to install it in places where we can add facial recognition software. So rather than someone checking in to a specific application, we would already know you are there.

I’ve been using location-based apps (like foursquare and Gowalla) for a little while now and I have conflicted feelings. At one point it’s kind of fun to let people know the places you’ve been or are at, but at the same time it’s kind of creepy to know that random people can know you’re not at home and can take advantage of that (see PleaseRobMe). I haven’t been creeped out enough yet to stop using Gowalla, but I’ve scaled back my use some.

What Cuban is talking about could take things to a whole new level. He’s right that many of us already have a publicly-accesible picture on our facebook profiles or other sites, so in a sense this data is already out there. But it would be really, really weird to walk into Walmart and hear a computerized voice say “Welcome, Kevin Rossen.” I imagine that something like that will happen in the not too distant future. I can think of some cool ways that churches could use a technology like this.

What do you think? Go read Mark’s post then come back here to discuss. I’d love to read your thoughts!

—UPDATE—
TechCrunch posted about this today and thought they had some interesting thoughts as to when this type of technology might be commonplace. I think they’re on to something. Here’s an exceprt:

But to say that the check-in is 2010 implies that 2011 is going to be the year this stuff starts coming into play. I say no way. We’ll be lucky if we see that kind of stuff in play in 2020. Not because the technology isn’t there — it definitely will be, and probably already is — it’s because we’re just not there yet as a society.

Image by Flickr user Rob Pongsajapan

Kevin

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15 responses to Public Facial Recognition: The End of Privacy or Awesome Use of Technology?

  1. I’m not a fan. I don’t want them knowing I’m there until I’m ready for them to know I’m there. I’m not interested in an automated life. I’m fine taking the time to do some things myself.

    I don’t understand the need so many feel to tell everyone where you are, where you’re going or where you’ve been. In a conversation about great vacations, sure, let’s hear it. However, when it comes to the mundane and insignificant, I’ll borrow the words of Tripper Harrison*, who reminded us that “It just doesn’t matter.”

    There might be such a thing as too much information. Just as I don’t feel the need to tell everyone every little place I go in my life, I also don’t feel that there is any need for others to know that about me, especially businesses, corporations, and organizations.

    *Meatballs – It Just Doesn’t Matter
    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3S_k1dRbXY

    • I respect and can understand your opinion completely. The mundane details of our everyday lives being shared is one of the main dividing points that people have on things like twitter and facebook status updates. I’ve had one person tell me that they actually like to read about those types of things (thanks mom!), but I usually try (unsuccessfully at times) to not overshare or give TMI.

      I do see a lot of potential creative, cool uses, though, for this idea of automatic facial recognition. Not in regards to broadcasting it on the web, but in ways of creating a customized experience for me. But more on that in another post.

  2. John M. Kirton II July 19, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Like I said in my Facebook comment: “Maybe I’m simplistic but…if you have nothing to hide, what’s the problem?”

    I watch a lot of crime and police dramas (fiction) in which a facial recognition program is portrayed. The characters will take the video feed from a security camera and run it through their facial recognition program to determine if the perpetrator they are looking for frequented a particular area.

    I see no reason why this could NOT be used for security and criminal investigations.

    Personally, I quit using apps like Gowalla, Loopt and Foursquare simply because I couldn’t justify making time to key in my location! It seemed more trouble than it was worth! And, I hadn’t really thought of the possibility that someone (outside of my circle of contacts) could see my location status and burgle me.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, John. I agree that this type of thing will be used by law enforcement soon, but what Cuban envisions for automatic check-ins is no doubt a long, long way off.

  3. Concerning current location-based apps, I started trying out the various ones as a means to see what was around me as opposed to who was around me. It’s a great way to quickly see what restaurants and stores are nearby, especially if in an unfamiliar area. As far as sharing with others my current location, it seemed like a pretty cool idea for anyone who would be interested. But for those not interested, I can see it being annoying.
    I’ve been using Gowalla a lot over the past few months and for me the major appeal has been the gaming side of it. I like collecting the custom stamps and pins and creating new spots on the map. It’s a virtual game in the real world. Also, it’s nice to have a personal digital passport of places I visit. If others are interested in seeing where I’ve been, I’m fine with it. I realize there are risks involved with publicly disclosing in real-time when I’m away from home, but a would-be criminal has all day to break into my place if he really wants to. The appeal for me may wear off but for now I’m enjoying it.
    Concerning Cuban’s vision of facial recognition, there’s definitely a lot of privacy concerns there if someone does not want to be recognized automatically wherever they go, but I can imagine a lot of good uses for it. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

    • Good call on the check-ins possibly being annoying. That’s what I’ve noticed from some people when I post my check-ins to facebook. But I wonder if it’s kind of just a case of the vocal minority? Like the idea that the squeaky wheel gets the grease while the wheels working fine get ignored. Either way, I don’t always post my Gowalla check-ins to facebook anymore.

      • I just try limit all my auto Tweets/FB statuses from a variety of media sources [whether Gowalla, YouTube (which I can get carried away sometimes), iPhone game scores, Dugg stories etc.]. I think it’s good to share from those sparingly for the better stuff but not for everything. That’s what a site like FriendFeed is for.
        I like that you can hide stuff on FB, which for me is pretty much every facebook game I see show up.

        • I feel the same way about Gowalla and the like. I almost always hide those in my facebook news feed. It’s good that people have the choice with that kind of stuff. As long as people have a choice with automatic check-ins, then it might not be so bad. I don’t know that I would ever be the type to want that kind of experience. Plus, in this world of so much identity theft, I just think we need to be extra careful with our personal information…even our faces. 🙂

        • The year 2015:
          “Chris, we’re home now; you can stop wearing your Spider-Man mask.”
          “Aw shucks!”

        • Brian: That’s so funny!!! And I could really see that conversation taking place one day!

    • John M. Kirton II July 20, 2010 at 11:57 am

      Funny…there are currently online, suggestions as to how to prevent facial recognition from “working”: wearing make-up! Geez, some people REALLY love their privacy!

      • Yes, some people really do. I know some people who moved to Mexico because of Y2K and have stayed there living completely off the grid. Mel Gibson’s character from Conspiracy Theory would be proud.

      • Who doesn’t love their privacy? If anyone claims they don’t, let me come in the bathroom while they’re using it. People aren’t strange because they value controlling what people know about themselves. We all do it, to some degree or another.

        • John M. Kirton II July 20, 2010 at 8:44 pm

          Okay, I guess I need to reiterate my last statement for those who don’t know me well enough to understand from where I am coming.

          In regards to certain levels of privacy (bathrooms, where I call “home”), YES, I have a sense of modesty and privacy! I take certain precautions in regard to my home, having been a former member of a religious cult who have had a history of terrorizing its former members.

          However, to a level that so many people (I am NOT including “Chris B.”, as I do not know them personally!) have risen with one loud voice to vehemently balk at the mere suggestion of doing anything which might “involve” them . . . look, while I do not blindly believe that corruption could occur in the use(misuse) of such technology, I ALSO believe that, with the use of such technology, innocent people could be cleared of wrongdoing and a more efficient capture of criminals could be performed.

          As far as the governing authorities knowing where I goto work, buy my food, anywhere (besides the bathroom!), if that information could be used to clear my innocence in a crime, then, by all means, use it! However, those who rise up and refuse will only raise suspicion upon themselves.

  4. @ Brian – Nice! Especially if it was one of those crappy ones from the supermarket, with the little gray rubber band. 🙂

    (Prepare yourself for a junior high come back. Are you seated?) Actually, I’d get a mask that looks like you. You’re ugly mug would break all of the facial recognition hardware. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about it. OOOOH! Eat that, sucka! ;-p (Shoot…forgot to put “butthead” in there somewhere…Hmmm…OH!) Eat that, butthead!

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