by Kelley Bergman
July 26, 2010
Kelley Bergman is a media
consultant, critic and geopolitical investigator. She has worked as
a journalist and writer, specializing in geostrategic issues around
We've all done it at one point or another,
posting our pictures of ourselves, family and friends on websites and social
network portals such as Facebook.
Whether it be submitting your picture to output
a cartoon or aged version of yourself, or uploading your personal snapshots
to Facebook, marketing campaigns are aggressively being pushed by digital
media corporations to obtain your facial
biometrics. However, most people are
completely unaware of the deceptive nature of these campaigns and their
Opponents to facial recognition technology are well aware that its
acceptance and integration within society are growing in combination with
wider use of video surveillance, which is likely to grow increasingly
invasive over time.
Once installed, this kind of a surveillance
system rarely remains confined to its original purpose. New ways of applying
the technology are leading to abuse as authorities or operators find them to
be an irresistible expansion of their power. Ultimately, the privacy of
citizens will suffer another blow.
The threat is that widespread surveillance will
change the character, feel, and quality of our lives.
The Buzzing Social
Network Giants Among Us
Online social networking has revolutionized the way the under-40 crowd
communicate and share information with one another. Social networking sites
like Facebook and Twitter have become the preferred way of communicating for
many people around the world.
According to a study by
InSites Consulting, 72 percent of Internet
users worldwide are members of at least one social network, which translates
to 940 million people globally.
Eastern Europe and Asia are the regions
with the lowest social networking participation (4 out of 10)
South America has the highest usage in
terms of percentage (95%)
Brits mostly visit Facebook (50%),
followed by Twitter (42%)
Worldwide, Facebook remains the most
popular social network (51% use Facebook), followed by MySpace (20%)
and Twitter (17%)
It is quite evident that a monopoly in social
networking has formed and little is likely to change in the next year.
"It is becoming difficult for new social
sites to recruit members," said Steven Van Belleghem, Managing Partner
of InSites Consulting. "The majority of surfers are happy with their
current situation and do not want to become members of a new platform."
Media and technology experts estimate that 20%
or more of the world's population will be using social networking by 2011.
It also means that as older members age, they
will post new updated pictures of themselves as they expand their activity
People average almost 200 friends (global
average) on Facebook meaning that the connections within Facebook itself
could span around the world with a link to each and every person registered.
Is Big Brother Using
The Internet To Extract Your Biometrics?
Technology expert Ivan Abreu says that Facebook and Google have
strong ties to lettered agencies within the U.S. government.
"Every picture that you upload to Facebook
or Google becomes the property of the government and they can do
as they wish with that property" said Abreu.
Facebook's terms and conditions confirm that the
company can do as they wish with any personal photos or information of any
user at their discretion.
"by posting Member Content to any part of
the Web site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant
that you have the right to grant, to Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual,
non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy,
perform, display, reformat, translate, excerpt and distribute such
information and content and to prepare derivative works of, or
incorporate into other works, such information and content, and to grant
and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing."
And in its equally interesting
"Facebook may also collect information about
you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging
services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation
of the service (e.g. photo tags) in order to provide you with more
useful information and a more personalized experience. By using Facebook,
you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and
processed in the United States."
Since December 2006, the Central Intelligence
has been using Facebook.com, to recruit
potential employees into its National Clandestine Service.
A major source of funding into Facebook ($US12.7 million) came from the
venture capital firm Accel Partners.
Its manager James Breyer was formerly
chairman of the National Venture Capital Association, and served on
the board with Gilman Louie, CEO of
In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm
established by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1999.
One of the company's key areas of expertise are
in "data mining technologies". Dr. Anita Jones served on In-Q-Tel's
board, and had been director of Defense Research and Engineering for
the US Department of Defense.
She was also an adviser to the Secretary of
Defense and overseeing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
which is responsible for high-tech, high-end development.
It was when a journalist lifted the lid on the DARPA's
Information Awareness Office that the
public began to show concern at its information mining projects of which
biometric facial recognition was a key component.
IAO page says:
"the IAO has the stated mission to gather as
much information as possible about everyone, in a centralized location,
for easy perusal by the United States government, including (though not
limited to) internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline
ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts,
driver's licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available
According to Abreu, a confidential source has
explained some of the technology behind the social network giant which he
"not only can they scan items on your
Facebook page, but their facial recognition and biometric applications
can scan every single photograph within Facebook (billions of images) in
real-time...that's the kind of advanced technology and computing power
The technological capabilities of government
agencies have long been known to far exceed even the most advanced public
Abreu's source identified the facial biometric
technology as 'beyond state of the art'.
"Regardless of whether it is your profile or
a front shot, if your facial biometric signature is anywhere on their
database and they have a reference screen capture from a video or even a
faxed copy of your photograph, they can retrieve a match with almost 90%
accuracy," added Abreu.
Abreu disclosed that access to such images are
not solely confined to Facebook.
The technology can breach the security of any
website and can simultaneously scan and download images it has been
programmed to retrieve based on a predefined sequence of algorithmic
According to Abreu, the success and massive marketing strategies by social
networking portals have made facial recognition technology that much more
attractive to governments.
"This technology has proliferated because of
public compliance and willful disclosure of personal information."
He stated that there are dozens of other
companies in addition to Facebook that log and store your information
In late 2009,
Google launched a new mobile search
technology called Google Goggles that allows users to submit pictures
rather that keywords as queries.
Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search
products and user experience explained that Google has been focusing on four
aspects of search:
modes, media, language, and personalization.
New modes of searching, such as voice-driven and
image-driven search, represent a major new commitment for Google, an empire
built-on keyword search ads.
Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra said that
Google Goggles represents the beginning of
Google's journey into computer vision. The service is being launched in
Google Labs because it's experimental and can only recognize certain
objects. Google has the capability to do facial recognition, said Gundotra,
but has decided to delay implementing it to mull the privacy implications.
Other interactive internet giants such as
InterActive Corp who own subsidiary
branches such as
Match.com are prime portals to access
personal images and information.
myWebFace is downloaded as a toolbar for
your browser and it enables you to create an,
"online cartoon avatar by choosing from a
huge selection of facial features, characteristics and accessories," as
stated in their license agreement.
They then provide you with the opportunity to
use your myWebFace cartoon for your Facebook profile or other social
networks. Another myWebFace invention
oldyourself.com digitizes and ages any portrait image to simulate
20 years in the future, thus an an older version of yourself.
The site uses clever tactics such as applying
the software to age celebrities to attract more users.
"Users flock to such sites," stated Brent
Kane who is a former technology officer and worked as a interactive
media liaison in Canada, Australia and the United States. "They heavily
advertise these types of sites to attract as many users as possible
within a short period of time," he added.
A review of the oldyourself.com website proved
Kane's assertion correct.
On July 24th, 2010 this author tracked the
website's traffic through a Facebook widget they had integrated on the
landing page of the website. The Facebook "Likes" went from just a few to
just over 28,000 "Likes" in a matter of hours suggesting the advertising
load was extremely high.
Interestingly enough, there was no defined page
to be found on Facebook itself.
"Users who download these tool bars are
completely oblivious to the fact that they are being tracked
and traced regardless of what is said in the license
agreements," said Kane.
Emails were sent to Mindspark to clarify their
position regarding these assertions, however responses were never received.
"The goals of such well invested websites
appear quite innocent and entertaining to the average user, however
behind the scenes, images are tracked, stored and logged into massive
data mining projects specifically for private information such as email
and IP addresses for future use," concluded Kane.
FACEinHOLE uses similar methods to entice users to upload photos
of themselves for integration into specific scenarios.
Want to look like a bodybuilder, model or actor?
Faceinhole.com has thousands of scenarios to
attract unsuspecting users to submit their personal photos. Registrants use
an upload interface (instead of a browser integrated toolbar) to submit
FACEinHOLE makes their domain information private to avoid public
disclosure. However, seeing this domain contact
owns over 5000 domain names, it is likely a
large company whose reasons for such privacy raise suspicion.
of Use" page states they are owned by
LisbonLabs, Creative Experiences a corporation based in Lisbon,
Portugal, but how this company is connected to the domain contact who owns
5000 other domain names is not clear.
In a typical fashion that resembles the other examples above, the site
outlines a "terms
of use" agreement stating that,
"FACEinHOLE may collect certain personal
information from user that is not displayed on the FACEinHOLE Sites,"
and they again invade a user's privacy by stating that they "may use
your personally identifiable information to present offers to you on
behalf of business partners and advertisers."
Also, your information can be,
"accessed and disclosed if and as required
by legal procedures, as determined by FACEinHOLE.com in good faith."
Lastly, they may,
"transfer personally identifiable
information in the event of a transfer of ownership of FACEinHOLE.com or
any of its websites or products."
So basically, you have no privacy and they can
do as they please with your personal images and information.
Ironically, on their
legal note page, they state,
"FACEinHOLE.com will investigate notices of
copyright infringement and take appropriate actions under the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act."
Well this author would be very curious to
inquire if FACEinHOLE requested permission from George Bush, Tony Blair,
Leonardo Dicaprio and Zinedine Zidane before duplicating and storing digital
images of these figures in their
Video games are other effective gateways that corporations are using to
biometrically record younger generations. Want a whole generation of teens
to be scanned? Why not incorporate facial recognition and biometrics in
That's exactly what both Xbox and
Playstation have done.
Microsoft’s Project Natal is delivering a
new add-on to the XBox gaming system that maps the exacts position of your
hands, your fingers, your feet, your face, your nose, everything in a 3D
map. It recognizes voice and faces and supports complex video chat for a
complete interactive experience.
Maybe too interactive, because in an Orwellian
overstep, Microsoft has included face recognition technology which will
allow you to use the meat, sinew and cartilage on the front of your head too
as your password to log in to your Live account.
Natal isn’t just for gaming:
As Microsoft starts to push the Xbox 360 as
the home entertainment mega-hub, you’ll be able to use Natal to flick
through your films and songs and use voice recognition to issue
Sony Europe's Head of Developer Services,
Kish Hirani, said the
Playstation Eye will have the ability to,
"detect gender and even the age of the face,
separate facial features such as the nose, eyes and ears, and even
detect whether you're smiling or not."
And taking a page from Microsoft's Natal
platform, Hirani said the Eye will also support "skeleton tracking." Of
course millions of teens and young adults will jump at the chance of owning
and scanning every segment of their body to play the next generation of
Unfortunately, once the images are uploaded
online, their identities will forever be owned by nefarious levels
Trust is a Wonderful
Thing Until It's Broken
"A digital divide exits between how youth
perceive network privacy and how the older generation of managers and
executives perceive it," says Dr. Levin, co-author of the study, The
Next Digital Divide: Online Social Network Privacy.
"Young people believe that information
shared with their personal social networks is considered private as long
as its dissemination is limited to their social network. Organizations,
on the other hand, don't recognize this notion of network privacy. They
believe that any information posted online is public and deserves no
The study found that while online social
networkers are comfortable posting large amounts of personal and private
information, they do so differentiating between destinations for that
Friends, family and work are three separate
networks in their minds. Young people are concerned that their personal
information while freely shared within their network of friends may end up
in the hands of others.
Indeed, facial recognition technology is being utilized on the internet as
we speak, however to what extent is still not clear. The use of facial
recognition in public places like airports depends on widespread video
monitoring, an intrusive form of surveillance that can record in graphic
detail personal and private behavior. And experience tells us that video
monitoring will be misused.
Video camera systems are operated by humans,
after all, who bring to the job all their existing prejudices and biases.
In Great Britain, for example, which has
experimented with the widespread installation of closed circuit video
cameras in public places, camera operators have been found to focus
disproportionately on people of color, and the mostly male operators
frequently focus voyeuristically on women.
ACLU special report highlighted an
investigation by the
Detroit Free Press which showed the kind of
abuses that can happen when police use video surveillance.
Looking at how a database available to Michigan
law enforcement was used, the newspaper found that officers had used it to
help their friends or themselves stalk women, threaten motorists, track
estranged spouses - even to intimidate political opponents.
The unavoidable truth is that the more people
who have access to a database, the more likely that there will be abuse.
Facial recognition is especially subject to abuse because it can be used in
a passive way that doesn't require the knowledge, consent, or participation
of the subject. It's possible to put a camera up anywhere and train it on
people; modern cameras can easily view faces from over 100 yards away.
People act differently when they are being
watched, and have the right to know if their movements and identities are
Two things must be understood by mass populations before any further
cooperation in facial recognition technology. The first is to validate if
the technology is effective for its intended purpose. The second is whether
the technology violates the appropriate balance between security and
Unfortunately, facial recognition fails on both
counts: because it doesn't work reliably, it won't significantly protect our
security - but it would pose a significant threat to our privacy.
So why should the public continue to participate or subject themselves to
such invasive technologies? They shouldn't.
Stop uploading, stop sharing, stop scanning,
stop distributing personal images throughout the internet. They are being
used against us and any further compliance in this charade will only lead to
new levels of manipulation and control by the powers that be.
If we keep our images personal and inaccessible to others, and if we prevent
any part of our bodies from being scanned, the chances of exposing our
unique biometrics will be dramatically reduced.
It's already too easy for them... don't make it