Your social media feed is probably filled with friends and family taking part in the latest viral trend — but there’s a potential dark side.
By now, all of your social media feeds are probably brimming with then-and-now pictures showing the “glow-up” or positive transformations of people — including celebrities, friends, family or random folks — sharing decade-old images of themselves, alongside current photographs.
Although the meme that’s proliferated on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is a great way to show how much you’ve changed over the years, and users are freely sharing the images, one technologist and follower of the meme pondered whether the entire challenge was actually something more sinister and sparked a discussion about the technology in the process.
Kate O’Neill, who authored a book called Tech Humanist, went on to theorise that if you were training a facial recognition program on age-related traits, it would be useful to have a large data set taken at a fixed number of years apart.
“Thanks to this meme, there’s now a very large data set of carefully curated photos of people from 10 years ago and now. Is it bad that someone could use it to train a facial recognition algorithm? Not necessarily,” Ms O’Neill said on Twitter, noting that such technology could be used to find missing children.
Me 10 years ago: probably would have played along with the profile picture aging meme going around on Facebook and Instagram
Me now: ponders how all this data could be mined to train facial recognition algorithms on age progression and age recognition
A number of technology companies, including Facebook and Amazon, have been criticised about the privacy implications of facial recognition technology.
A Facebook spokesperson provided the following statement:
“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.”
Instagram and Twitter have not yet responded to a request for comment.
The obvious rebuttal to Ms O’Neill’s musings is that Facebook already has a troves of photos of each user over the years, which it does use to develop facial recognition technology.
But as she points out, it is difficult for the company to know exactly when some of the older photos were taken.
Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that’s a lot of noise; it’d help if you had a clean then-and-now. What’s more, the photo posting date and even EXIF data wouldn’t always be reliable for when the pic was actually taken.
“I’m not saying anyone should panic or feel bad. It’s simply worth becoming more mindful of how our data can be used,” she said. “We don’t need to be wary of everything; we just need to think critically, and learn more about the potential our data has at scale.”
Although Ms O’Neill said that facial recognition technology will likely be most useful for targeted advertising, she emphasised in several follow-up tweets that users should remain vigilant with what they share, regardless of the social platform.
“The broader message, removed from the specifics of any one meme or even any one social platform, is that humans are the richest data sources for most of the technology emerging in the world. We should know this, and proceed with due diligence and sophistication,” she wrote in an opinion piece for Wired on the meme.
Categories: Social Media