WARNING: Personal Data Mined From Facebook Photos

Turning off Facebook's facial-recognition system seems now that researchers have found you can identify people and gain personal information via face-recognition software and social media profiles.

Turning off Facebook’s facial-recognition system seems more critical than ever, now that a new study found that identifying people and gaining personal information via face-recognition software and social media profiles is a reality.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of information technology and public policy at CMU’s Heinz College and a researcher in the university’s CyLab, said he and his research team — which also included CMU postdoctoral fellows Ralph Gross and Fred Stutzman — used off-the-shelf face-recognition software, cloud computing, and publicly available information from social network sites to identify individuals and compile data on them.

He added that three experiments were performed:

  • Identifying individuals on a popular dating site, where privacy is protected by the use of pseudonyms;
  • Identifying students walking around campus via their Facebook profile photos,and
  • Predicting personal interests of students, and even acquiring some of their Social Security numbers, starting only with photos of their faces.

Acquisti warned that with the expanding availability of technology, anyone with a smart phone and Internet connection will theoretically be able to decode anyone else’s identity and gather information about them, adding:

A person’s face is the veritable link between his or her offline and online identities. When we share tagged photos of ourselves online, it becomes possible for others to link our face to our names in situations where we would normally expect anonymity.

The seamless merging of online and offline data that face recognition and social media make possible raises the issue of what privacy will mean in an augmented reality world.

Ultimately, all of this access is going to force us to reconsider our notions of privacy. It may also affect how we interact with each other. Through natural evolution, human beings have evolved mechanisms to assign and manage trust in face-to-face interactions. Will we rely on our instincts or on our devices, when mobile phones can predict personal and sensitive information about a person?

The full results of the study will be presented at security conference Black Hat in Las Vegas Thursday.

Readers: Do the results of this study make you think twice about whether and how to allow photos of yourself to be tagged on Facebook?

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