Carnegie Mellon Facial Recognition Study Highlights Privacy Concerns

Lora Bentley
Slide Show

Six Facebook Privacy Blunders

Facebook routinely pushes privacy boundaries and riles privacy advocates.

When Facebook introduced its auto-tagging facial recognition feature, users and privacy advocates around the world were immediately perturbed - not by the feature itself necessarily, but that Facebook rolled it out without telling users it was coming. EU privacy regulators also wanted to ensure that pictures were tagged only with the prior consent of their subjects and not automatically. Otherwise, the feature ran afoul of the law, they said.


But the facial recognition technology's strength or weakness is less of an issue, it seems. According to a recent study from Carnegie-Mellon University, the problem lies in how easy it is to re-identify someone using a snapshot and publicly available data.


The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Prof. Alessandro Acquisti used snapshots of students taken with a web cam, facial recognition technology similar to that recently acquired by Google, and publicly available Facebook photos to correctly identify nearly one-third of the student volunteers who participated in the study. Going further, he also demonstrated that with facial-recognition technology and publicly available information (such as information in a subject's Facebook profile), he could correctly predict the first five digits of the subjects' Social Security numbers 27 percent of the time.


In that same vein, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently told All Things D conference attendees that Facebook is "the first generally available way of disambiguating identity." And upon reading Acquisti's research, University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Ohm said:

This paper really establishes that re-identification is much easier than experts think it's going to be.


What have the privacy experts said about "anonymized" data all along? It's never really anonymous. With the right combination of "anonymous" information, anyone can be identified.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 14, 2011 11:50 AM ruth ruth  says:

IT has finally arrived,,now all they need next do is find whos whos nick names and which sites these nicknames roam our nude pics will be identified tooooo.soon there will be nothing left to hide,so we might start getting used to telling truth,,,,aargh.....and stop being ashamed of ourselves and the things we like and are obssessed with.....


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