Internet privacy violated by Facebook

Alan Duff

Let’s face it, if Superman were real and had a Facebook, his secret identity would have been out the second he uploaded his first photograph. His disguise of glasses that fooled an entire city wouldn’t have been able to fool Facebook’s facial recognition program.

The sad truth is that the Internet, once a tool for privacy is increasingly becoming a tool for removing anonymity as facial recognition programs and online advertising become more sophisticated.

Since December of 2010, Facebook has been slowly unveiling its facial recognition technology which automatically tags the user’s friends whenever they upload a photograph. Facebook claimed in one of its blogs that the technology was introduced because many of its users considered “tagging a chore.”

While users do have the option to turn off this feature with their privacy setting, many critics have claimed that Facebook’s integration of the technology was done in a subtle fashion that didn’t alert users to this function.

This level of personal identification is only the beginning, though. This summer, researchers from Carnegie Mellon took pictures of students from around their campus and then cross-referenced those pictures with a Facebook profile database which is public and includes names and images.

Using their facial recognition software, the researchers identified 31 percent of the students they took pictures of. Soon, if there is a picture of you online, someone may just be able to take a picture of you with their phone and find your Facebook, workplace and home address.

While I think the technology will be phenomenal for catching criminals, stopping terrorists and betting your friends if that guy in the coffee shop is actually an actor, it has its downsides.

How would the witness protection program function in a world where witnesses can be tracked and identified online? How could anyone feel any sense of privacy that is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?

Facial recognition software isn’t the only way that the Internet has become increasingly more personal. Advertisers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods of creating targeted advertisements for any individual person.

Have you ever noticed that those advertisements on the side of websites seem to be about your interests? Cookies and their more elaborate counterparts, flash cookies, allow advertisers to track you from website to website, learning your interests, hobbies and what advertisement is most likely to catch your eye.

Admittedly the targeted advertisements are better than advertisements that have nothing to do with you, but where does their level of intrusion end and a person’s privacy begin?

None of us mind recommendations from Amazon, Ebay or other online retailers that say if you bought x, you might like y. They’re convenient. But why should advertisers know where you live, all of your interests, your income level and what you had for breakfast three weeks ago? I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast three days ago.

Fortunately, our right to privacy has not been ignored by lawmakers. According to TIME Magazine, some lawmakers have been trying to pass a “Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights” that restricts what information companies can and cannot take from consumers.

Hopefully the future of facial recognition programming will be used for good, rather than for the creation of a future where all anonymity and privacy is removed.