Saturday, March 28, 2009

tt4t_080 Online face recognition, how many photos of you are online?

It’s Saturday, March 28th, 2009 and welcome to episode 80 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This week there was news of an interesting new technology to be targeted at Facebook users that will certainly have a huge impact upon the way users of social networks view their online presence in the future.

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Often new technologies find uses that were originally not considered when the technology was invented. is a case in point and is currently developing its face recognition technology to be used in conjunction with Facebook. Face recognition programs have been around for several years now and the technology is maturing and finding new uses. is now doing small scale alpha testing for its face recognition software called Photo Finder and is partnering with Facebook to analyze the photos of selected alpha testers of Facebook. Photo Finder can automatically “tag” photos with a persons name based upon a facial recognition algorithm and then search through other photos to find similar face matches of that person in other photos. is said to have up to a 90 percent accuracy rating. I discussed this development with some of my students in an undergraduate level class I taught this week and many were concerned about the implications of this technology. I asked my students how many photos they had uploaded to Facebook and the typical answer was in the hundreds! Imagine being able to “train” the Photo Finder application to automatically recognize the face of your friends and then be able to do a photo search on any of your friends, say Susan, and have the search results provide every photo with Susan in it that you have ever uploaded to your Facebook account!

Now consider that Facebook currently has over 1 Billion photos, that’s Billion with a B, uploaded to its service EVERY month! That makes Facebook the largest online photo service on the web.

The online privacy issues are enormous. is working with Facebook so that this technology can have limits placed upon its uses within a Facebook user profile that will be based upon the customized privacy settings in a users Facebook profile. Even with this limitation privacy issues remain unsettled and the potential for abuse exists.

We had a great class discussion about the new face recognition capability that may be coming to Facebook in the near future. It did give some students pause to reflect on all the photographic evidence that currently exists within the average undergraduate Facebook account. Since face recognition cuts across different Facebook accounts a person does not have control over the pictures that appear in their friends Facebook accounts therefore the privacy concerns cannot fully be known.

I have provided three links in the show notes to the website and to articles from TechCrunch and the ReadWriteWeb blogs that provide a more complete overview of the Photo Finder application.

TechCrunch Photo Finder article

ReadWriteWeb article

For the undergraduates that are in our teacher education programs and other professional programs at the college level the future ramifications need to be considered. It is not uncommon for human resource departments to do an online search of a potential employee hire on the Internet and Facebook is often a part of this search because of its popularity on college campuses. We have always cautioned students to be very careful about the digital footprints that they may be leaving online and to exercise good judgment about their online presence.

I believe that privacy must not be abrogated by the individual and that it is reasonable for a person to protect their privacy if they so choose. New face recognition technologies will certainly challenge the level of privacy we have enjoyed in the past.

We live in a dangerous time where technologies are outpacing the law and we must not let technology become our master. The cycle from development to implementation has been shortened to a point where there seems to be no time for a debate, yet debate is needed to work out the consequences this technology may have. We should be selective in utilizing the beneficial aspects while at the same time minimize the negatives. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must not be compromised by the unintended consequences of new technologies.

We will be facing many life changing technologies over the coming decades and we must be careful to not kneel at the alter of technology but rather be guided by our principles and selective in the types of uses allowed. We may look back at face recognition as being very benign compared to other 21st Century technologies that are on the horizon such as genetic engineering, gene therapy, and even brain scans capable of analyzing ones thoughts. We are at a point in our technological society that we must pay attention to the technological developments around us and have the debate of the good along with the bad and find compromises that in the end honor our humanity.

So the next time you go to upload a photograph of yourself and/or your friends to Facebook, or other online services, take a moment to reflect if face recognition may have any unintended future consequences for you or your friends.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a new Web 2.0 service called Yodio and a link is available in the show notes.


Yodio – How it works

Yodio reminds me of a cross between an online version of Photostory and Voicethread. Yodio allows you to upload photos to the web and then do a voice annotation tied to the photo by using your cell phone and then share them with others. This creates a picture slide show with your own voiceover.

Once you have created your Yodio you can send it to others as an email link, embed the Yodio on your blog or webpage, Facebook and/or MySpace account. Your Yodio creation will be hosted on the yodio website.

Yodio is very easy to use and is currently free for the basic account and offers a tiered pricing schedule for additional features. You do have to register your phone number with the Yodio service when you sign-up as this is used to identify you with your account when you call in to make your recordings. Like all Web 2.0 tools be sure to follow your organizations policies and procedures for posting online content that can be shared with others.

That wraps it up for episode 80 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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