Facebook’s “10 years challenge”, harmless fun or data mining?
At the beginning of the year, a new fascinating “challenge” spread among the users of social networks, especially Facebook. It all started with a simple question – how much a person has changed over a decade? People soon became intrigued, and a trend followed up – it is noted that over 5 million pictures were uploaded on not only Facebook but Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) and even Twitter. It all seemed like harmless fun. People were leaving comments on how much fashion changed over the years or how much they have aged. The users have participated in the meme, uploading a photo of themselves from 2009 and a recent selfie or a picture of themselves from this year.
But, on the other side, what seemed like a way of passing time and having fun, turned out that can have a far nefarious purpose. It started with dubious people noticing that “what if Facebook could unknowingly use the facial recognition algorithm to learn age progression of a user or age recognition”?
The articles started spreading out on the internet claiming that the photos uploaded with the #10yearschallenge can make it easy for those algorithms to study a set of before-and-after photos. Facial recognition software works by matching real-time images to the previous photos of a person. What people do not know is that each human face has about 80 unique nodal points that differentiate one person from another. By measuring the various points on the human face, such as depth of eye sockets, the distance between the mouth and the nose, or the shape of a face. A facial recognition system is used for example in China to connect millions of CCTV cameras in order to pick out targets if it is necessary. It is believed that facial recognition technology will soon overtake fingerprint technology because it proves to be the most effective way to identify persons.
With the diminished trust in Facebook that has been rocked by many privacy scandals that have happened over the years – it is no wonder that the people started questioning this “challenge”.
The least harmful scenario would be that if the facial recognition features were used during this challenge, the information could be used during the help with finding missing children, for example. It is stated that the police in New Delhi reported tracing 3000 missing children using only facial recognition features.
On the other hand, some information from the gained data could be used for targeted advertising. If it is noticeable that according to the pictures you are aging faster than it is expected, you are not a very good insurance risk, so your data could not be used for insurance assessment and health care.
Even the Amazon was selling at the time a real-time facial recognition service to different law enforcement and government agencies. In this way, the police could not only track down the committed criminals but also the protestors, etc.
Even though Facebook claimed that “This is a user-generated meme that went viral on its own. Facebook did not start this trend, and the meme uses photos that already exist on Facebook. Facebook gains nothing from this meme (besides reminding us of the questionable fashion trends of 2009). As a reminder, Facebook users can choose to turn facial recognition on or off at any time.”, the distrust remained. Facebook has been using facial recognition intelligence for years to recognize users and people they are pictured with.
Whatever Facebook gets out of the “10-year challenge”, it is important that people questioned its motive in the first place. All of us are aware of the privacy scandals and various data breaches in the past two years, so now, even a mere meme seems suspicious.
People started noticing when the possibility for them being tricked and played with arise, so starting from the important ones as the writers on various sites – to the simple people who can gain the attention of their friends and family – everybody can make a change by questioning the suspicious activities. Even though there is no proof that this was what happened, being aware of the current situation with the technology expansion and the ways in which users can be play – is a must.
We have to think more carefully about how and when and why we share the personal information that we choose to upload on the Internet. Memes and games are always a great way of using personal information – for example, some political analysis came by way of a personality quiz. Now and then a good example happens in order to spread awareness to reflect how are people sharing their data, and above all – why do they share it. Next time, before you decide to join a current trend, maybe this would be a good example to hold on for a minute and think about possible negative aspects.